Every NFL Team's Biggest Offseason Move
This has been one of the most eventful offseasons in NFL history for so many reasons. Big names changed teams—some even in their own division like new Washington Redskin DeSean Jackson. The Denver Broncos and New England Patriots played a game of cornerback roulette with Aqib Talib and Darrelle Revis.
We break down the biggest moves for each of the NFL's 32 franchises and admit often the biggest move can be the one you don't make (see the San Francisco 49ers and head coach Jim Harbaugh), the one you are forced to make (read: the Oakland Raiders and Jared Veldheer) or the one seen months in advance (the Tennessee Titans releasing Chris Johnson).
Those are just some of the big doings that went on around football the past few months, which are recapped by team in this slideshow.
Arizona Cardinals: Signed Offensive Tackle Jared Veldheer
It was no secret the Arizona Cardinals were going to put offensive line, specifically a left tackle, atop their priority list this winter. It was just a matter of whom they would land. It wound up being Jared Veldheer as a free agent from the Oakland Raiders.
While there are questions about his health—he was limited to five games a year ago—his age and ability are prime. Arizona added a Pro Bowl-caliber left tackle who will be just 27 in June. It should aid Carson Palmer and Bruce Arians' vertical passing game and help new starting running back Andre Ellington, who is a bit undersized, stay healthy.
The Cardinals have a difficult division of defenses to face in the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and steadily improving St. Louis Rams. Having a left tackle the caliber of Veldheer is a significant move in the right direction...as long as he stays healthy.
Atlanta Falcons: Drafting Offensive Tackle Jake Matthews
The Atlanta Falcons bolstered both sides of their line this offseason, but no move will have more of an impact than the drafting of Jake Matthews, son of NFL Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, to help protect franchise quarterback Matt Ryan. Offensive guard Jon Asamoah will bolster a stalled Falcons running game, and defensive tackle Paul Soliai will help stuff the run, but as Ryan goes, so goes the Falcons.
Matthews was widely considered the most polished pass-protector among the tackles in the draft, according to Bleacher Report's draft guru Matt Miller. He should help buy Ryan more time to get the ball to healing weapons Julio Jones and Roddy White. Matthews is one of the few players drafted this May who makes everyone around him better immediately.
Baltimore Ravens: Drafting Middle Linebacker C.J. Mosley
Most of the Baltimore Ravens' best moves this offseason were retaining their free agents like linebacker D.J. Smith, left tackle Eugene Monroe and tight end Dennis Pitta. Also, the signing of wide receiver Steve Smith made a lot of headlines because he is a marquee name. He is also 35 years old and therefore no longer an impact player.
The drafting of linebacker C.J. Mosley out of Alabama is the real potential game-changing move of their offseason.
The Ravens know a little bit about defense and linebackers, winning two Super Bowls on the strength of both—namely future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis. We won't be crazy to suggest Mosley will be that kind of a player, but he fits the franchise perfectly.
When you are based on defense, you need to draft that way. The Ravens did so here with Mosley.
Buffalo Bills: Trading Up to Draft Wide Receiver Sammy Watkins
The Buffalo Bills made one of the biggest and boldest moves of the draft, trading up to get Sammy Watkins at No. 4 overall. They ostensibly gave up veteran receiver Stevie Johnson, as well as this year's and next year's first-rounders for Watkins.
That is quite a haul. He better be a player.
Talent-wise, he was the class of a very strong and deep wide receiver draft crop. The problem with this move lies in whether second-year quarterback EJ Manuel is the answer. If not, this move for Watkins will hamstring the franchise for years.
The Bills are all-in with Manuel and Watkins now.
Carolina Panthers: Letting Veteran Wide Receiver Steve Smith Go
Unlike most teams in this slideshow, the Carolina Panthers' biggest move was one that left a gaping hole. In letting 35-year-old wide receiver Steve Smith go this winter—he wound up signing with the Baltimore Ravens—they left franchise quarterback Cam Newton without any reliable weapons on the outside.
The Panthers did draft a big target in wideout Kelvin Benjamin out of Florida State in Round 1, but Newton needed more experience in his receiving corps, not less.
Granted, Smith is past his prime, so the Panthers' move in letting Smith go without having answers at the position behind him—and not signing a premium free agent—is one part bold and one part forward thinking. It was a big move, even if it might not have been the best one for 2014's Super Bowl hopes.
Chicago Bears: Signing Quarterback Jay Cutler to a Long-Term Deal
You can question the amount of dollars, or even the decision, but you have to credit the Chicago Bears' conviction with quarterback Jay Cutler, who re-signed this winter for seven years and $126 million, according to Spotrac.com's contract details.
The Bears made a lot of enhancements to their aged defense this offseason, but no move was bigger than the decision that Cutler is their man. The mercurial quarterback is now attached to West Coast offense guru and head coach Marc Trestman for the foreseeable future, for better or worse.
Cincinnati Bengals: Hiring Hue Jackson as New Offensive Coordinator
The Cincinnati Bengals have the third-most salary-cap space in football, according to OvertheCap.com, but that didn't mean they were in a hurry to spend it on retaining defensive end Michael Johnson, left tackle Anthony Collins or slot receiver Andrew Hawkins. All three were allowed to sign elsewhere without much of a contest.
They played it frugal this offseason and even lost offensive coordinator Jay Gruden to the Washington Redskins. Now, they turn the offensive reins over to Hue Jackson, who promises to bring a different style of offense—grind-it-out ball control. The AFC North is a smashmouth division, and the Bengals are ready to be a smashmouth team.
This move might not show up in an improvement in the standings, but it will represent a focus on their team philosophy of defense and running the football with second-year back Giovani Bernard and 2014 second-rounder Jeremy Hill. In an offseason of little free-agent movement for the Bengals, the subtle decision of their new offensive coordinator goes down as their biggest move.
Cleveland Browns: Re-Signing Center Alex Mack to a Megadeal
The Cleveland Browns had yet another tumultuous offseason of turnover, but one of the players who didn't change his address goes down as their biggest move: re-signing transition player, center Alex Mack to a whopping five-year, $42 million deal, according to Spotrac.com's contract details.
The Browns lost free safety T.J. Ward but replaced him with Donte Whitner—so net zero there. Mack is the anchor for an offseason line that will be breaking in a new running back in Ben Tate and potentially a rookie quarterback in Johnny Manziel.
You could make a case the headlining move of the offseason was the drafting of Manziel, but the fact the Browns risked missing out on him by trading out of the No. 4 spot ruins it for us. If they wanted him so badly, they wouldn't have risked another team trading up to get him before they could at No. 22 overall.
No one gives centers enough credit. Mack is arguably the best center in football and one of the few players who can say (with a straight face) he actually wants to play in Cleveland.
Dallas Cowboys: Releasing Defensive End DeMarcus Ware
The Dallas Cowboys came into the winter with some serious salary-cap issues, so you had to figure this was going to be an offseason of trimming. The biggest move in that regard was the release of defensive end DeMarcus Ware, who just didn't play up to his contract a year ago.
He is now a Denver Bronco, and the Cowboys' losses continued in OTAs this week with the potential loss of linebacker Sean Lee for the season to a torn ACL, according to CBS Sports NFL insider Jason La Canfora.
This was a Dallas defense that was already dead last in the NFL a year ago. The Cowboys won't miss Ware's underperforming ways, perhaps, but they already had more questions than answers on that defense.
Denver Broncos: Signing Cornerback Aqib Talib to Richest Free-Agent Deal
The Denver Broncos dominated the early days of free agency, signing cornerback Aqib Talib from the New England Patriots, free safety T.J. Ward from the Cleveland Browns and defensive end DeMarcus Ware, who was released by the Dallas Cowboys. Later, they added Emmanuel Sanders as a replacement for the departed Eric Decker.
Those are a lot of upgrades for a team that was already really good. The Broncos did have the sixth-worst pass defense in football, but they addressed that threefold with a shutdown corner, a safety and a pass-rusher.
We have to give the nod to the Talib move for six years and $57 million, according to OvertheCap.com, as the team's biggest of the offseason—even if the New England Patriots one-upped Denver later by winding up with Darrelle Revis, arguably a better player. Talib shouldn't have any problems shutting down the limited receivers in the AFC West, though.
Detroit Lions: Drafting Tight End Eric Ebron
The Detroit Lions have their holes, and tight end probably wasn't one of them before the draft. But they pulled off an aggressive move for North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron at No. 10 overall.
Ebron's seam-busting ability might mean more to an already pass-happy Lions offense than his own numbers. Anyone who can draw defensive attention from Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush has to be seen as a dangerous addition.
Green Bay Packers: Having Ha Ha Clinton-Dix Fall to Them in Round 1
The Green Bay Packers sorely needed a ball-hawking safety, and their biggest move of the offseason was merely waiting and watching Ha Ha Clinton-Dix fall to them in Round 1 at No. 21 overall. Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good.
The Packers scored in the fortune department here.
They did add pass-rusher Julius Peppers as a marquee name for their defense, but the play of Clinton-Dix is going to have a bigger impact on defending the pass-happy likes of Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford in the NFC North.
Houston Texans: Drafting Defensive End Jadeveon Clowney
The Houston Texans didn't hold all of the cards in the draft. They just held the big ace, which they decided to use on a once-in-a-generation pass-rusher over a potential franchise quarterback.
The Texans might still be searching for a quarterback, but South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney is one mighty complement to J.J. Watt in the pass rush. Clearly, this was a case of the Texans taking the best available player over filling a need. Give them credit for doing that, even if the lack of a quarterback is going to cost them more games than Clowney will win for them in the short term.
Indianapolis Colts: Scoring Receiver Hakeem Nicks on a One-Year Prove-It Deal
The Indianapolis Colts might have needed more help on defense, but when Andrew Luck is the face of the franchise, you have to do everything you can to prop him up. The signing of former 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown receiver Hakeem Nicks was the biggest move in that regard.
Nicks is still just 26 years old and will be playing in another contract year after signing a one-year deal to prove he is healthy and capable of big numbers again. The addition of a big target in Nicks just might be the move that takes Luck to the MVP level.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Picking Blake Bortles as Head of 2014's Quarterback Class
The biggest question going into every NFL draft—from the media perspective anyway—is when and where the first quarterback will come off the board. The Jacksonville Jaguars answered that emphatically at No. 3 overall, selecting Central Florida's Blake Bortles over Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater.
While drafting Bortles as their quarterback of the future was the biggest move the Jags made, the fact they backed that pick up with a pair of wide receivers in Round 2, Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson, shouldn't be ignored. The Jags gave Bortles and their offense a better chance to succeed...perhaps as early as the middle of next season.
Kansas City Chiefs: Losing Three Starting Offensive Linemen
The Kansas City Chiefs were another team that figured to have a tough offseason due to salary-cap constraints. When the dust settled, Branden Albert, Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz all signed big contracts to start elsewhere. Very few teams could afford to lose three lineman of their ilk.
If you have to pick the biggest loss of the bunch, go with the left tackle Albert over guards Asamoah and Schwartz. The Chiefs are hoping Eric Fisher can slide over to replace Albert, which will in turn leave a hole at right tackle.
Again, the Chiefs couldn't afford to pay these linemen, but that doesn't mean their losses won't be felt by quarterback Alex Smith or running back Jamaal Charles any less this upcoming season.
Miami Dolphins: Signing Offensive Tackle Branden Albert
Here is how big of a factor a left tackle like Branden Albert can be: His move from the Kansas City Chiefs to the Miami Dolphins is the biggest offseason move for both teams.
The Dolphins needed to revamp their entire offensive line, and Albert's five-year, $47 million deal came with the most guaranteed money, $20 million, in all of free agency, according to OvertheCamp.com, Albert is the reliable pass-protector that a young Ryan Tannehill sorely needs in order to take the next step in his development.
Minnesota Vikings: Trading Up to Select Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater
The Minnesota Vikings had to go back to the well on finding their franchise quarterback this offseason, and the move to get a second first-round pick to select quarterback Teddy Bridgewater should be lauded. They might have snaked him right before the Houston Texans were set to pick him at the top of the second round.
He had some shaky moments in the draft process, falling from the No. 1 overall pick he once was projected to be and landing in Minnesota, where he could start right away. The Vikings made a number of moves to improve their defense, but none of them will truly matter as much as whether Bridgewater is their quarterback of the future.
With Adrian Peterson entering the twilight of his career, the Vikings need an offensive identity. Regardless of what you think of Bridgewater right now, he will become their identity going forward.
New England Patriots: Signing Cornerback Darrelle Revis to Replace Aqib Talib
Oh, that Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots front office. They sure are slick.
Standing to lose Aqib Talib to their chief combatant for the AFC's Super Bowl bid, the Denver Broncos, the Pats turned around and one-upped them, signing arguably a better cornerback, Darrelle Revis, to a modest contract that required just $11.5 million guaranteed, which is identical to the guaranteed money Talib received, per OvertheCap.com.
It was yet another Belichick/Pats stroke of genius. But they didn't stop there. They also picked up a compensatory pick for losing Talib and signed defensive back Brandon Browner on an under-market deal amid his suspension.
Bookend corners of Revis and Browner can make the Pats a real tough out in the AFC, especially for pass-happy teams like those Broncos. Ask the Broncos about trying to beat the Legion of Boom in the Super Bowl. That didn't go so well.
Revis' signing with the Pats is perhaps the biggest offseason move of all.
New Orleans Saints: Signing Free Safety Jairus Byrd
The New Orleans Saints' signing of Jairus Byrd got overshadowed quickly in the early days of free agency, but we should remind everyone just how cap-troubled the Saints were going into the winter. Adding the best free agent on the market going into the offseason has to be ruled a huge win for the Saints.
Tight end Jimmy Graham was the best offensive unrestricted free agent before the Saints tagged him as their franchise player. Then, the best defensive free agent joined Rob Ryan's attacking crew.
It took a lot more work than merely throwing money at Byrd, too. The Saints had to trim some veterans and make it work with the books. This would have been the biggest move of the winter, if not for some fireworks unfolding thereafter with other big names suddenly becoming available on the market.
New York Giants: Signing West Coast Disciple Ben McAdoo as Offensive Coordinator
The New York Giants don't tend to be huge players in free agency historically, but with so many veterans headed to the free market, the Giants used that roster flexibility to the maximum, along with their available cap space. They are arguably the most improved team all around this winter with the amount of free agents they added, especially on defense.
With all that said, the installation of the West Coast offense with new coordinator Ben McAdoo is going to wind up being the biggest move of this winter. He will be tasked to get a few more good years out of Eli Manning while breaking in some new offensive linemen, a new feature back in Rashad Jennings and a rookie receiver in Odell Beckham Jr.
The added pieces help, particularly the upgrades on the offensive line—especially run-mauling guard Geoff Schwartz—but it will be McAdoo's job to make all of it work this summer and fall.
New York Jets: Signing Wide Receiver Eric Decker
The addition of Michael Vick adds a circus atmosphere to the quarterback situation this summer and fall, but it will be up to new New York Jets wide receiver Eric Decker to make whatever quarterback Rex Ryan goes with work.
Decker has his critics as a product of Peyton Manning's excellence, but he was a productive receiver with nine touchdown receptions when the likes of Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow were the quarterbacks before Manning was chucking passes for the Denver Broncos. Decker is better than the general public gives him credit for being.
He will get a chance to prove it under a big contract and the bright lights of New York.
Oakland Raiders: Failing to Convince Offensive Tackle Jared Veldheer to Stay
It is a sad state of affairs with the Oakland Raiders when their biggest offseason move was the first domino in a comedy of errors. Despite having the most cap space in football heading into the winter, the Raiders signed mostly has-beens. The Oakland dollar just isn't that strong nowadays.
Failing to get left tackle Jared Veldheer to want to be a Raider was the start of it all. Then, potential replacement tackle Rodger Saffold agreed to a deal that had to be nixed because of a mysterious failed physical. He wound up passing his physical with the St. Louis Rams just fine, by the way.
Again, this winter of salary-cap promise wound up being a twisted comedy of errors. Here is how general manager Reggie McKenzie explained it to Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle:
No, (Saffold's failed physical) really wasn't a setback. ... The setback was the one that got away from us. Losing Veldheer was a blow to me. He didn't want to come back. It wasn't about finances. The kid didn't want to play for the Raiders anymore, and I struggled with that.
The Raiders held the cards and could have franchise tagged Veldheer and signed him to the money they offered Saffold, so that is a pretty weak excuse. But, hey, we're talking about the Oakland Raiders. You don't become a sad-sack franchise like them without making mistakes.
Philadelphia Eagles: Releasing Wide Receiver DeSean Jackson
The Philadelphia Eagles might have made their team better as a whole this winter, but the loss of wide receiver DeSean Jackson will sting more than any single addition will help. He was one of the most dynamic weapons in football in one of the most dangerous offenses.
Now, he will be catching passes for a division rival, the Washington Redskins.
The Eagles might not have wanted to make it work with Jackson in terms of money or off-the-field drama, but if he is anywhere near as productive in Washington, the Eagles are going to regret letting him go and getting nothing but salary-cap relief in return.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Releasing Veteran Linebacker LaMarr Woodley
The Pittsburgh Steelers were another franchise that was hamstrung by the salary cap, which made releasing LaMarr Woodley their biggest move. Granted, they re-signed a linebacker to step forward behind him, Jason Worilds, and drafted another linebacker in Round 1, Ryan Shazier, but Woodley was a presence for the defense who meant more than mere tackles or sacks.
We will give the Steelers the benefit of the doubt here on this move, though. They know linebackers and defense. They needed to get better after a down year defensively by their standards, and they needed to get younger. They did both with their moves this offseason.
San Diego Chargers: Drafting Cornerback Jason Verrett
The San Diego Chargers were one of the easiest teams to peg in Round 1 mock drafts this spring. Everyone knew they had to pick a cornerback. It was just a matter of which one.
It wound up being Texas Christian's Jason Verrett.
When you are challenging the Denver Broncos, who are armed with Peyton Manning and last season's record-setting passing offense, you need cover guys of any size. He might not be a 6-footer, but Verrett can start right away and immediately make the Chargers secondary better.
San Francisco 49ers: Keeping Jim Harbaugh as Head Coach
The San Francisco 49ers suffered some losses (Donte Whitner) and made some acquisitions (Stevie Johnson, Antoine Bethea), but their biggest move was one they never made at head coach. Keeping Jim Harbaugh around after a reported feud with GM Trent Baalke was akin to dodging a bullet.
Harbaugh explained his relationship with his general manager to Sports Illustrated's Michael Rosenberg:
We're both demanding and we want to be accountable for ourselves, for each other. If you haven't had a brother, you probably don't understand the relationship between the GM and the head coach. We're partners on the same team. I have great respect for him. He works extremely hard at it and is very good at it. We are all part of a team. I believe in the structure we have. I don't want to change anything that we do in that regard.
The 49ers are going to continue to win a lot of games because they didn't lose Harbaugh as head coach.
Seattle Seahawks: Re-Signing Pass-Rusher Michael Bennett
The Seattle Seahawks were supposed to lose their marquee players to big-ticket contracts elsewhere after winning the Super Bowl. Defensive end Michael Bennett was supposed to be the first and best one to go.
Instead, he signed a modest deal of four years and $28.5 million to return, per OvertheCap.com.
Call it the spoils of victory or the loyalty of Bennett, but it is good to be the king. He is going to be a big factor in making the Legion of Boom II dangerous, because of the pressure he puts on the quarterback.
St. Louis Rams: Drafting Run-Game Mauler Greg Robinson No. 2 Overall
The St. Louis Rams had a lot of choices to pick through with the second overall pick, thanks to the Robert Griffin III trade. In the end, they made the perfect choice to fit their power running game in easily the toughest division in football in terms of defenses.
Auburn's Greg Robinson is a monster run-blocker who can help Zac Stacy and Tre Mason pound the rock at three of the sturdiest defenses in football—the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals. This is a big move because of Robinson's size, but also because it fits the scheme and attitude of Jeff Fisher's club.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Releasing Cornerback Darrelle Revis
It takes some big stones to admit making a mistake. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had to change course on Darrelle Revis one year after betting the house to get him from the New York Jets.
It isn't that he could not play anymore. He was still arguably the best cornerback in football by most accounts last year. The problem was that he didn't fit the Lovie Smith scheme and sucked up a lot of salary cap.
The release of Revis in lieu of nothing more than cap relief—after what it took to get him—allowed the Bucs to be one of the most active teams in free agency. This offseason was a major overhaul, and they have Revis' dollars to thank for it.
Tennessee Titans: Releasing Running Back Chris Johnson
The Tennessee Titans' release of Chris Johnson was a foregone conclusion, but it was still a big move that led to some interesting picks on draft day. They let Johnson and his hefty contract go without compensation and turned around and selected Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan and running back Bishop Sankey.
You can make the case the Titans got the best player in the draft at two positions. Had they decided to give the veteran Johnson one more year, they might not have made such deft moves.
Getting the tackle and the young back should help them decide if Jake Locker is their franchise quarterback. Ultimately, that is what the franchise direction will hinge on.
Washington Redskins: Signing Wide Receiver DeSean Jackson
We have a feeling we will have a hard time figure which move was bigger: The Philadelphia Eagles releasing DeSean Jackson or the Washington Redskins adding the quick-strike weapon to Robert Griffin III's arsenal.
The most likely answer right now is both are equally significant.
Sure, the Eagles believe the Chip Kelly system can make a multitude of receivers productive. They are about to find out just how explosive Jackson is on the other side of the field.
It is rare that a 1,300-yard, 10-touchdown receiving threat suddenly becomes available in his prime at age 27 for nothing more than some salary commitment. It is even rarer for that player to switch sides in his own division. This Jackson move will be talked about for a long time in Philly if it backfires on the Eagles.
Jackson and the Redskins might be laughing all the way to the bank...and NFC East supremacy.
Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, was the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this past season. He is now an NFL featured writer here. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game.
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