Playing Buy or Sell with the 10 Biggest Moves of the 2014 NFL Offseason
The NFL season never really ends, as teams are constantly on the lookout for ways to improve their rosters.
Most of the big free-agency signings are done, and the rookies have been selected. Now it's a quiet time, relatively speaking, where we can take a look and see what we liked and what we didn't.
Of course, it's all making a decision "on paper," and as some will remind us, games aren't played on paper. So, really, we won't know which of these moves paid off until there are some games to be played.
For now, we can take a look at what happened the past few months and indulge in a little knee-jerk reaction. Here are 10 moves I am either buying into or selling as we head into 2014 training camps.
I based what was "big" by a combination of possible impact, money and overall buzz around the move.
Buying: New York Jets Signing Eric Decker
His salary ranks at just tied for No. 17 out of the top-25 per-year averages among wide receivers, according to Spotrac.com. Further, he brings the ability to stretch the field and a physical style of play to an offense.
Some wonder if he will be able to be productive as the main focus of the passing offense, after having been the Denver Broncos' No. 2 or No. 3 option. But the Jets worked hard to add some other weapons both on the ground (Chris Johnson) and in the draft (Jace Amaro, Shaq Evans, Jalen Saunders).
The defense will still focus on him, but there will be other players who can make team's pay when they do. In which case, paying Decker as a distraction makes this a win anyway.
Selling: Philadelphia Eagles Cutting DeSean Jackson...
It can get old dealing with a player who is constantly yammering for a new contract while in the middle of an old one, but if you chose to move a guy like DeSean Jackson, you’d better have a replacement. Or at least a guy who can come close.
The Eagles' cutting of Jackson was ugly, with shaky allegations of gang ties and assurances by the team that he was cut for "football reasons," per Kevin Patra of NFL.com. If they were tired of his antics, OK. However, the receivers left behind aren’t guys I feel can easily replace what Jackson did.
Jeremy Maclin is coming off an ACL tear. While he appears healthy, the Eagles can’t be 100 percent sold that he will return to what he was pre-injury. In fact, they only signed him to a one-year deal. Riley Cooper had a great 2013, but he succeeded without half of the attention from defenses he’ll get this year, and there’s no guarantee he’ll overcome that.
I liked the selections of Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff, but both have some rough edges to their game. I don’t see a clear plan of succession to the receivers post-Jackson.
Buying: …Washington Signing Jackson
Meanwhile, I can’t help but like how Washington went right out and grabbed Jackson. While Pierre Garcon and Santana Moss have been solid, and Andre Roberts has some upside, there weren’t a lot of great options among the wide receivers.
Jackson brings an immediate vertical threat to an offense which needs one.
Hopefully Robert Griffin III is back to 100 percent health this year, and if he is, he and Jackson should be a potent combo. Given the four-year contract they just gave him, they’re hoping he’s there long term.
And you know he’s going to have a big chip on his shoulder, especially twice a year when Washington plays Philadelphia.
Buying: Cleveland Browns Ignoring Wide Receiver in the Draft
I’ve been back and forth on this one. The entire thing hinges on how you feel after you learned that wide receiver Josh Gordon is facing a year-long suspension.
It’s understandable if you immediately looked at the final draft—with no wide receivers—and thought "what a mess." It was my first reaction, especially considering they traded out of a position to get Sammy Watkins, the top receiver in the draft class.
However, I have come away liking that they stuck to their board. They moved around, still got the players they wanted, filled needs and gained some more picks moving forward, including two in the 2015 NFL draft.
They’ve clearly been angling for new quarterback Johnny Manziel to sit this year (we’ll see how that works out), and Brian Hoyer could definitely hold the reins for a year. They’ve added Earl Bennett and Miles Austin—neither of them world-beaters but both serviceable—to an OK group of receivers.
While it would have been nice to add Watkins, the Browns still put together a solid draft and managed to set themselves up for a potentially great one next year. Short term, it might be a bit rough, but long term this was the way to go. Sometimes the biggest move of an offseason can be the one you don't make.
Buying: Denver Broncos Signing Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward
After the Denver Broncos got hammered in last year’s Super Bowl, they realized they needed to get more physical in a big way. So they went out and signed two of the harder-hitting and physical defensive backs on the market in Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward.
Talib turned his career around with the Patriots, but they weren’t willing to pay him to stay. He abuses receivers and tight ends, playing physically throughout the game and wearing them down. Guys will make catches against him, but they pay for it, and he often keeps them out of the end zone.
Ward was the second-best safety on the market after Jairus Byrd, and he is another very physical player. You can expect to see him used in a similar manner to Seattle’s Kam Chancellor—a guy who enforces the middle of the field and makes receivers look over their shoulder when they cross it.
There’s a lot to like about these two signings, and they have the potential to change the personality of a defense which was pushed around too much last year. Even with Ward in trouble for misdemeanor assault, per Dan Hanzus of NFL.com, this is still a great signing.
Selling: Houston Texans Trading Matt Schaub, Not Having a Starter-Worthy QB
After Matt Schaub imploded last season, it seemed clear he wasn’t the answer. So trading him to the Oakland Raiders made sense. That is, if you have a replacement in the wings.
Like the Cleveland Browns, the Houston Texans stuck to their board. They didn’t grab a quarterback until the fourth round, where they selected Tom Savage. Savage was a nice pick in the fourth, but he’s a developmental quarterback—he won’t be starting this year.
But who will? Ryan Fitzpatrick was a mess when he left Buffalo, while Case Keenum and T.J. Yates have been decent in stretches but are not long-term answers. So with a team that has the talent to potentially compete for the division, if not more, the one big ingredient they were missing is still the one they are missing.
Maybe they didn’t see what they wanted in this year’s crop of free agents or rookies. But then why not keep Schaub for a year? After all, they only got a sixth-round pick in the 2014 draft for him—not exactly a king's ransom.
Unlike the Browns, the Texans didn’t seem to have a long-term plan for the hole in their lineup. Here’s hoping they see something on the roster many of us don’t.
Buying: New England Patriots Acquiring Darrelle Revis
The Patriots were outgunned by the Denver Broncos in the conference championship last season, allowing Peyton Manning to throw for 400 yards and a pair of touchdowns. They decided to make sure they were ready for next time, signing Darrelle Revis shortly after he was cut by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The contract itself is interesting, outlined by Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com:
It has widely been reported as a one-year, $12 million deal, which is accurate. Revis will earn $12 million this season. But for salary-cap accounting purposes, and to protect Revis from being assigned the franchise tag in 2015, the sides have added a second year to the pact in 2015 that would pay Revis $20 million and count $25 million against the salary cap.
We all know what Revis can do, shutting down half of the field and making life easier for the rest of the defense. The only caveat here will be when Revis looks for a new contract.
The Patriots don’t do massive contracts for anyone not named Tom Brady. That’s a problem (maybe) for down the road, though. For this year, with a team in the championship window, this move was nothing but a win.
Selling: Carolina Panthers Cutting Steve Smith
On the surface, it wasn’t a terrible move. Steve Smith is 35, his skills are diminishing and the Carolina Panthers wanted to invest the money elsewhere. The problem is, much like with the Houston Texans trading Matt Schaub, there seemed to be no plan for replacing him.
Even with his skills not quite what they once were, Smith was the best receiver on the team. Replacing him with Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant isn’t replacing him.
And while there is a lot to like about first-round rookie Kelvin Benjamin, he’s a work in progress with just one year of solid college production (his 2012 was unimpressive) and occasionally shaky route-running. He should round out into a capable receiver, but that may not happen this year.
As Football Outsiders writer Michael Tanier tweeted after the Panthers selected Benjamin, "The Panthers still have no receivers who can help them in 2014."
It leaves quarterback Cam Newton with some shaky options, and the Panthers may try to run the ball more often. Holding on to Smith for one more year would have made sense.
Buying: New Orleans Saints Grabbing Jairus Byrd
Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition...or for a team we thought had no cap room to grab the top free-agent safety. New Orleans caught us by surprise, signing Jairus Byrd to a six-year, $54 million contract when nobody had them on the radar as an interested party.
You have to love the move, though, as this is a defense that was excellent last season, and Byrd makes it that much better. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has a new toy to pair with second-year safety Kenny Vaccaro, and he should be able to put Byrd in position to make a lot of plays.
Ryan’s blitzing 3-4 front will keep the pressure on the quarterback, so it pays to have playmakers in the secondary, and that’s exactly what Byrd is. It was a complete shock, but it’s one I loved to see and one that shows this team can be as aggressive off the field as it is on it.
Buying: Miami Dolphins Signing Branden Albert
There are a lot of question marks around Miami this season, but one thing is absolutely a given: This offensive line is much improved over the 2013-14 version.
Adding Branden Albert immediately upgrades the left tackle position and should help give quarterback Ryan Tannehill more time to deliver sharp passes.
Tannehill was sacked a franchise-record 58 times last year—some of it his own doing—and was constantly under pressure. The offensive line was a source of chaos with the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito disaster.
Adding a lockdown left tackle was a must, and Miami did just that.
Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him @andrew_garda on Twitter.