Every NFL Team's Smartest Offseason Decision so Far
The start of free agency brought a flurry of previously agreed to deals and surprise transactions across the NFL. There were unexpected trades and failed free-agent plans, forcing teams to pivot to other strategies. Now that the first wave of talent is mostly off the board, it's a good time to look at every team's smartest free-agency decision so far.
For many squads, it was simply signing one player or solidifying one position group. But others executed entire philosophies perfectly, and those bold decisions were especially noteworthy. With $1.5 billion spent on free-agent contracts, there were plenty of acquisitions to choose from.
Arizona Cardinals: Landing Sam Bradford as a Bridge Quarterback
Many people around the NFL were dismayed with the Arizona Cardinals' decision to give quarterback Sam Bradford a one-year, $15 million deal that could swell to $20 million. But those takes were misguided; they missed why the Cardinals wanted Bradford.
Because Arizona failed to land a young quarterback to develop over the last several years, it had no signal-callers entering this offseason. If the Cardinals were picking higher than 15th overall in the draft, they'd likely feel more confident in their ability to select a face of the franchise, but they're more likely to be choosing from quarterbacks who will need a year or two until they're ready to hit the field. Instead of signing a career backup like AJ McCarron who may not fend off a rookie, Arizona signed Bradford, who is at worst an average starter who can be an asset if he stays healthy.
If the Cardinals had more cap flexibility to improve their roster, a clear rebuilding plan would make more sense, but they don't. It's a veteran-laden team that disappointed as injuries took hold in 2017. Bradford offers leadership, a starter's skill set and time for a team that needs to remake a roster that was a Super Bowl contender just a few years ago.
Atlanta Falcons: Signing Brandon Fusco
Without many assets to greatly help their roster, the Atlanta Falcons quietly snagged an upgrade at right guard. Former Minnesota Viking and San Francisco 49er Brandon Fusco signed a three-year deal, solidifying the weakest part of the Falcons line. He's a good fit for Atlanta's zone-blocking scheme, as Fusco played well in a similar style under Kyle Shanahan in 2017.
B/R NFL1000 scout Ethan Young rated Fusco notably higher than incumbent right guard Wes Schweitzer, with the former finishing 23rd to the latter's 54th out of 83 graded players in 2017. He noted that while Fusco's not the best athlete, he improved his technique and spacing to maximize his performance. In the event Schweitzer improves considerably, Fusco also has experience at center and can serve as a spot starter or high-end depth piece.
The Falcons didn't make other notable moves, mainly because of their cap situation. With just $5.2 million available, they'd need to restructure contracts to open breathing room for more acquisitions. While this offseason is tight, the team will have flexibility in future years.
Baltimore Ravens: Signing Michael Crabtree
Things changed quickly for the Baltimore Ravens, who pivoted from massively overpaying wide receiver Ryan Grant to acquiring a quality veteran receiver in Michael Crabtree. Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, Grant failed his physical after agreeing to a $29 million deal. There were theories that the Ravens reneged after Crabtree's release, but regardless of the process, they did well to land their best receiver in years.
The Oakland Raiders' decision to move on from Crabtree may have had to do with locker room issues more than his on-field play. Crabtree is still a quality player and terrific route-runner at 30 years old. He's a short-term fix for a unit that has zero proven receivers.
The Ravens' cap situation ($7.3 million available) is so limited that they can't be too picky when it comes to taking on affordable impact players. Quarterback Joe Flacco should heavily favor Crabtree until another threat emerges. General manager Ozzie Newsome must make sure the team doesn't stop trying to overhaul the receiver room, or else the offense will continue to lag behind.
Buffalo Bills: Moving Up in the Draft
It's been a strong offseason for the Buffalo Bills as the new regime looks to put its fingerprints on the roster rebuild. Trading incumbent quarterback Tyrod Taylor and left tackle Cordy Glenn freed up $15.9 million in cap space, allowing them to shore up the defensive tackle spot with Star Lotulelei. But the assets they acquired in those two trades were just as important, as the 12th overall pick and third-round pick in the draft will help them land their franchise quarterback.
Armed with six of the top 96 selections, Buffalo has plenty of assets to get into the top four and grab one of the best signal-caller prospects. As long as it hits on its evaluation and development of that player, it doesn't matter too much what it gives up to get him. The jump from No. 21 to No. 12 was reminiscent of the Philadelphia Eagles' move from No. 13 to No. 8 in 2016, which set up a second trade that turned into Carson Wentz.
There's not much to dislike about the Bills' strategy thus far. They've acquired affordable veterans like cornerback Vontae Davis, running back Chris Ivory and quarterback AJ McCarron to fill out the roster. Their only significant signings in terms of cap spending were Lotulelei, who has the sixth-highest total guarantee among 4-3 defensive tackles, and defensive end Trent Murphy, who is coming off a torn ACL and MCL but was an effective player prior to that.
Carolina Panthers: Signing Dontari Poe
It's difficult to lose a first-round pick who was an effective player, but the Carolina Panthers not only made the right decision to let Star Lotulelei walk, they also upgraded his position. Former Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons nose tackle Dontari Poe was a great signing for three years and $27 million. He'll help the Panthers line in a way for which Lotulelei wasn't fit.
The issue with Lotulelei over the last few years was that he wasn't as good as now former teammate Kawann Short in penetrating as a pass-rusher, thus relegating him to a gap-eating role that didn't fully suit him. Lotulelei was solid, but Poe is much better at that assignment. Both Short and 2016 first-round pick Vernon Butler will benefit from having the 346-pound Poe next to them.
Poe's not a pass-rush threat at this point in his career, thus his lower price tag. With realistic expectations and a defined role, though, he shouldn't have many issues fulfilling his contract value. This move should help the entire defense.
Chicago Bears: Loading Up with Pass-Catchers
The Chicago Bears acted similarly to how the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams loaded up around a young quarterback last offseason. After hiring a quarterback-friendly head coach in Matt Nagy, free agency was all about adding pass-catchers. The Bears signed three of the best available, including tight end Trey Burton and wide receivers Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel.
Robinson and Gabriel bring varying skill sets for quarterback Mitchell Trubisky to utilize and could complete quite the unit if Cameron Meredith can regain his 2016 form. Even if Meredith doesn't, Robinson is a ball-dominant player who can track the pigskin on vertical routes or make defenders miss in space on underneath receptions. Gabriel possesses blazing speed that allows him to win with ease against man coverage.
Burton's athleticism and ability to line up across the offense will be a difference-maker as well. Along with second-year tight end Adam Shaheen, the Bears will feature two-tight end sets that can put pressure on linebackers and safeties. The threat of two pass-catching tight ends will also help maximize the one-on-one looks Robinson and Gabriel face.
Cincinnati Bengals: Trading for Cordy Glenn
It's been business as usual for the Cincinnati Bengals during free agency, with the exception of one move: the trade for former Buffalo Bills left tackle Cordy Glenn. The Bengals rarely spend money, which is a significant reason why their contending window closed so quickly. But they acquired a high-upside player while only swapping first- and late-round picks with the Bills.
Their decision to invest in Glenn doesn't come without risk, as he had an ankle injury that made him expendable in Buffalo. Overall though, Glenn will be a massive upgrade over Cedric Ogbuehi and will help solidify one of the worst lines in the NFL.
Limiting the assets forfeited for Glenn was the key to this trade being a big win. And Cincinnati came away with the best left tackle aside from Nate Solder to change teams this offseason.
Cleveland Browns: Cashing in Extra Assets
With his team coming off a 1-31 stretch, new Cleveland Browns general manager John Dorsey had to take drastic steps to make the franchise competent again. Former general manager Sashi Brown left the cupboard full of extra draft picks and cap space, and Dorsey wasted little time utilizing every resource available to improve the roster. The decision to be so aggressive was the best move the Browns could have made.
The list of transactions reads like a Madden offseason and features seven signings, four player-for-pick trades and one player-for-player trade. While it's unlikely every move will have a favorable outcome for the team, Cleveland needed depth and reliable starters. Acquiring impact players on offense like Tyrod Taylor, Carlos Hyde and Jarvis Landry may be enough to get the Browns into the playoff race.
The quest for higher-upside players isn't over, either. With five picks in the top 64, the Browns can afford to take developmental players who may need a year behind their newly acquired veterans. The franchise has erred in the past by forcing young players onto the field too soon and asking them to fill roles they simply weren't meant to fill yet.
Dallas Cowboys: Franchising Demarcus Lawrence
The Dallas Cowboys stand less than $1 million under the salary cap, so their front office can't make acquisitions this offseason until other moves are made. The Cowboys have taken their time addressing a few bloated veteran salaries instead of showing any aggressiveness in the market. While that's likely a mistake, they did make a good decision by franchise-tagging defensive end Demarcus Lawrence.
Lawrence was one of the biggest breakout performers last year, setting a career high with 14.5 sacks and establishing himself as an elite edge-rusher. Dallas has needed that type of production, and with a bare pass-rusher market, it simply couldn't afford to let Lawrence field outside offers. Even on his $17.1 million franchise tag, the Cowboys are saving money compared to what a long-term deal would cost.
Kicking the can on paying the 25-year-old is risky, but it will allow Dallas to improve its finances as its major deals become easier to shed.
Denver Broncos: Keeping Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas
There had been rumors the Denver Broncos could entertain trading Emmanuel Sanders and/or Demaryius Thomas this offseason. The idea was baffling, as the Broncos were clearly readying to pursue a quarterback prior to free agency. General manager John Elway agreed the receivers were key cogs, and Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post reported Elway said both would return in 2018.
The last two seasons have been skewed as they've dealt with subpar quarterback play, but the arrival of Case Keenum may spur an uptick in production.
Keenum's play will be huge for the Broncos and may prove to be their smartest choice of the offseason, but he'll have to prove he's not just a product of the Minnesota Vikings' excellent surrounding cast. Keenum's a journeyman but has a huge opportunity to replicate last year with two great receivers in Denver.
Detroit Lions: Franchising Ezekiel Ansah
Defensive end Ezekiel Ansah's 2017 stat sheet was surprisingly good, featuring 12 sacks after just two in 2016. The film didn't necessarily back up those numbers, as six of the sacks came in two games against poor competition. Nevertheless, the Detroit Lions did the right thing in franchise-tagging him.
Ansah showed an uptick in effectiveness this year, even if he wasn't as impressive as he was in his first three seasons. The dearth of edge-rushers in the free-agent market and even in the 2018 draft class means there will continue to be interest in the position. The Lions still need an edge-rusher even with Ansah on the roster, so losing him would have created an impossible hole to fill.
His $17.1 million cap hit is a tough pill to swallow, but Detroit is healthy in terms of its cap situation. It was conservative in free agency, opting to roll over most of its space to next year and rely on the draft to shore up a few holes. Avoiding a costly long-term deal with Ansah was also wise, as it needs to see what kind of player he'll be before committing a truckload of money.
Green Bay Packers: Taking a Risk in Free Agency
The departure of former general manager Ted Thompson and subsequent promotion of Brian Gutekunst brought a stark change of philosophy when it comes free agency for the Green Bay Packers. For years, the team stood on the sideline despite having an all-time great quarterback, so its newfound aggressiveness in signing free agents was refreshing but also necessary. The acquisitions of tight end Jimmy Graham and defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson could be difference-makers with Aaron Rodgers back to full strength.
The money the Packers spent was especially notable. They dropped $30 million over three years for Graham, and Wilkerson, looking to rehabilitate his image after a tumultuous stint with the New York Jets, signed a one-year deal worth up to $8 million. The Packers also tried to lure Chicago Bears star cornerback Kyle Fuller with a four-year deal worth $56 million, but it was matched by the Bears within hours.
Green Bay still has significant work to do to solidify a roster with zero proven cornerbacks and after losing franchise stalwart Jordy Nelson. The future looks much more promising, though, now that the front office seemingly understands the stakes of having a talent like Rodgers.
Houston Texans: Signing Zach Fulton
There wasn't a team with as much on the line in free agency as the Houston Texans. Lacking a first- or second-round pick, the Texans had to rely on their cap space to rebuild the offensive line and secondary. They hit on three significant players—guard Zach Fulton, cornerback Aaron Colvin and safety Tyrann Mathieu—though they could've used even more help.
Fulton's the most notable player because of the importance of quarterback Deshaun Watson's health and how poorly the offensive line performed last year. After gaining experience at all three interior line positions with the Kansas City Chiefs, Fulton figures to play left guard for the Texans. His $7.5 million-a-year deal, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, is manageable for a player who will surely provide an upgrade in the passing game.
The concern for Houston is what it should do with its tackles after it missed out on Nate Solder. The Texans were in a difficult position, as there were few other starting-caliber offensive linemen to pair with Fulton. They had to be perfect with their plans to be confident in their overall improvement, and Houston fell short by missing out on an established tackle.
Indianapolis Colts: Sitting Out the First Wave of Signings
The Indianapolis Colts are a rebuilding team in the midst of a major overhaul, so it would've been nonsensical to add long-term contracts for players likely to start their declines before the rebuild is complete. Wisely, the Colts avoided the first wave of free agency.
Signing a 28-year-old cornerback like Trumaine Johnson would've been a nice upgrade, but the Colts aren't close enough to contending to make it a worthwhile investment. Instead, general manager Chris Ballard can shore up a roster that needs it. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the team had visits set up with wide receiver Ryan Grant and tight end Eric Ebron.
If Indianapolis can fill out the middle of its roster with several players in the second wave of free agency, its draft strategy can be to take the best players available. Landing elite talent will be the quickest way to forge a competitive roster, and having cost-controlled young players are the best asset in sports. The Colts were wise to adopt this strategy.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Signing Austin Seferian-Jenkins
After they made a deep playoff run, it appeared the Jacksonville Jaguars would struggle to continue building because of salary cap limitations and several important in-house free agents. The Jaguars allowed both receiver Allen Robinson and cornerback Aaron Colvin to walk and replaced them with tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, wide receiver Donte Moncrief and cornerback D.J. Hayden. It remains to be seen how the latter two will perform, but Seferian-Jenkins was an excellent signing.
For just $10 million over two years, Jacksonville got a starting-caliber receiving tight end to pair with Marcedes Lewis. Seferian-Jenkins, like most tight ends, took most of his rookie contract to develop, and his production has never been that impressive. However, his 6'5", 262-pound frame is an asset, and he moves well for being such a giant presence.
The Jaguars are unlikely to provide him with a breakout statistical year, but he's efficient with his targets. He's posted a catch rate of 65 percent or better in each of the last two seasons, while Lewis has done that only three times in his 12-year-career. It's likely Seferian-Jenkins overtakes Lewis in passing situations.
Kansas City Chiefs: Adding Sammy Watkins
One of the more surprising contracts doled out this offseason was Sammy Watkins' three-year, $48 million deal from the Kansas City Chiefs. Despite the sticker shock, Watkins was a tremendously good addition as the Chiefs prepare quarterback Patrick Mahomes to take the reins of the offense.
Mahomes is an electric intermediate and deep passer, and now the Chiefs boast an elite trio of pass-catching options. Head coach Andy Reid has never had such explosive weapons in Kansas City as he does now, and Watkins' presence pushes the Chiefs' upside as high as Mahomes can take them.
The biggest negative on Watkins' resume is his limited production. His impact goes beyond the stat sheet, though, as he was critical in opening up underneath space for the Los Angeles Rams last year. A steadier diet of targets would help Watkins take advantage of the significant separation he can generate when he's asked to be more than a decoy.
Los Angeles Chargers: Relying on Recent Draft Picks
It's been a slow, quiet free agency for the Los Angeles Chargers. Incumbent starting free safety Tre Boston remains a priority to re-sign, but that market has been moving at a different pace than any other position. What the Chargers smartly decided to do was allow offensive linemen Kenny Wiggins and Matt Slauson to leave and plan on replacing them with 2017 draft picks Dan Feeney and Forrest Lamp.
Los Angeles suffered from starting the less-than-athletic Wiggins and Slauson last season. Feeney started nine games in place of Slauson, and it was clear he was an upgrade with his ability to create running lanes and get upfield. Lamp, an even better athlete than Feeney, figures to play either center or right guard.
There are always growing pains with young offensive linemen, as even Feeney struggled in pass protection. But the Chargers invested in these picks and must continue to be confident in head coach Anthony Lynn and his staff's ability to develop them. Adding a veteran like center Mike Pouncey to complement those two could be a worthwhile risk that helps this line transform into a dominant run-blocking unit.
Los Angeles Rams: Overhauling Starting Cornerbacks
The Los Angeles Rams have had one of the most active and impressive free agencies thus far, with two major losses being wide receiver Sammy Watkins and cornerback Trumaine Johnson. Losing Johnson was a foregone conclusion based on their cap situation, so they traded for cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib to pre-empt Johnson's departure.
As ESPN's Adam Schefter pointed out, the Rams will be paying $1 million less for Peters, Talib, Sam Shields and Lamarcus Joyner than the New York Jets will be for Johnson. That's not an apples-to-apples comparison, but it does highlight how well general manager Les Snead did in terms of acquiring quality players at a reasonable price. Shields is a wild card based on his health but a worthy flier.
Talib's role will be familiar under defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. He'll be the Rams' primary press corner like Johnson was and like Talib was in Denver. Peters is the premier off-ball corner in the NFL, giving Los Angeles a massive improvement over veteran Kayvon Webster. It seemed the Rams were in trouble with so many free agents to pay, but they aced the test with their secondary.
Miami Dolphins: Remaking the Offensive Line
The Miami Dolphins have been stuck in mediocrity for more than a decade. The Dolphins, however, have started the process of cleansing their roster of the huge contracts that limited their flexibility and wisely shifted their focus to remaking an offensive line that has lacked talent and availability for years.
The acquisitions of center Daniel Kilgore and guard Josh Sitton and release of center Mike Pouncey were critical moves that can help the Miami offense hit a new level in 2018. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is returning, plus young tackles Laremy Tunsil and Ja'Wuan James will benefit from improved teammates and another year of growth. Sitton is a remarkable upgrade from veteran turnstile Jermon Bushrod, as the four-time Pro Bowler was ranked sixth by B/R NFL1000 scout Ethan Young compared to Bushrod's 61st.
Pouncey was a solid run-blocker and average pass-blocker for the Dolphins but simply not worth his bloated salary after injuries had taken some of his athleticism. Young had Pouncey ranked 14th to Kilgore's 36th, but the cap savings Miami will benefit from can easily offset the difference in play.
Minnesota Vikings: Going All-In
Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman could've done the easy thing this offseason, which was to re-sign one or two of his incumbent quarterbacks and hope either Case Keenum or Teddy Bridgewater proved to be a franchise player. Instead of sitting on his hands with around $40 million to spend at the beginning of free agency, Spielman and the Vikings took the plunge and signed the best free-agent quarterback to hit the market since Peyton Manning. In addition to Kirk Cousins, he also inked defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. This massive risk was properly characterized by head coach Mike Zimmer, who said that if they chose incorrectly, he'll get fired, per Kevin Patra of NFL.com.
Cousins has a lot to prove after he received a fully guaranteed three-year deal. His success in Washington was obvious on the stat sheet, but the eye test didn't always show a top five or 10 quarterback. His play late in games was erratic, and at times he seemed more like the product of an elite system with great playmakers. He's entering a situation similar to what the Redskins gave him in 2016, with elite receivers and a favorable scheme, and with the Vikings, he must lift the team above their biggest competitors.
Richardson signed a one-year, $8 million deal with another $3 million in incentives. He's a fantastic player in terms of creating pressures for those around him, even if he doesn't always finish sacks. Per Pro Football Focus' Sam Monson, Richardson totaled 36 quarterback pressures in 2017, which will benefit new teammates Linval Joseph, Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen. That's a scary-good defensive front.
New England Patriots: Trading for Jason McCourty and Danny Shelton
It's not usual for a Super Bowl team to pluck talent from a lesser team, but the New England Patriots executed two great trades with the Cleveland Browns to beef up their defense. They acquired starting cornerback Jason McCourty, run-stuffing defensive tackle Danny Shelton, a 2018 fifth-round pick and a 2018 seventh-round pick for a 2019 third-round pick and a 2018 sixth-round pick. The Patriots are often lauded for fleecing opponents whether they actually did or not, but these were no-lose trades.
McCourty is a notable addition not only because his twin brother is a Patriots' starting safety but also because of his play in 2017. McCourty took a prove-it deal with the Browns and played well despite getting hurt midway through the year and dealing with Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' scheme. He'll greatly benefit from playing across from another man specialist in Stephon Gilmore in Bill Belichick's aggressive man-coverage scheme.
Shelton disappointed in Cleveland because of his first-round draft status. He's a big body without the skill set to be a great pass-rusher, so his value is more limited than a penetrator's. But he'll join a rotation with other tough players like Malcom Brown and Alan Branch and be an effective gap-eater.
New Orleans Saints: Beefing Up the Defense
Instead of relying on their incredible offensive efficiency and downfield passing attack, the 2017 New Orleans Saints used defense as their backbone. The Saints wisely doubled down, signing safety Kurt Coleman, cornerback Patrick Robinson and linebacker Demario Davis and re-signing defensive end Alex Okafor.
Robinson and Davis should prove to be considerably impactful as they will replace P.J. Williams and Manti Te'o as starters, respectfully. Robinson was a premier slot corner with the Philadelphia Eagles last year, and his second stint with the Saints should go smoother than the last since he'll be surrounded by Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley on the boundary.
Davis was the league's 25th-best inside linebacker in 2017, per B/R NFL1000 scout Jerod Brown, finishing with great run defense and tackling grades. Te'o ranked 50th. Sometimes removing a bad starter for an average player can do wonders for a unit, and that should be the case.
New York Giants: Signing Nate Solder
The list of highest-paid positional players doesn't always reflect the best talent but rather the leverage those players had at that time. A weak free-agent crop and 2018 draft class meant a massive payday for New York Giants signee Nate Solder. The former New England Patriots left tackle will make $15.5 million per year, which is $2.25 million more than the next highest-paid tackle.
Solder secured his bag as the Giants, Houston Texans and Cleveland Browns were desperate to find a competent left tackle. While New York isn't going to get an All-Pro performer for its extravagant signing, it can now rest easier with Ereck Flowers possibly moving to the right side. That peace of mind is worth paying Solder a little more.
The Giants should continue investing in the unit. Whether that means drafting guard Quenton Nelson at No. 2 overall, trading down and taking a top guard or waiting until the second round, New York will be better off with an elite offensive line than any alternative except a franchise quarterback. The Solder signing ensured they won't have to worry much about the position for the next few years.
New York Jets: Solidifying the Secondary
The New York Jets signed the premier press corner in the NFL, Trumaine Johnson. They also brought back Morris Claiborne, who was an above-average press-man corner under head coach Todd Bowles.
New York now boasts one of the most physical and talented secondaries in the league. Johnson and Claiborne complement each other and fit the usage Bowles desires perfectly, and safeties Marcus Maye and Jamal Adams proved to be a dynamic duo in their rookie seasons. The biggest question mark in the secondary is slot corner Buster Skrine, who will benefit from being a slot-only player and not being rotated to the boundary on occasion.
It was also smart for the Jets to go all-in at quarterback this offseason. Signing Teddy Bridgewater to a one-year deal was a boom-or-bust move, but it was worth the risk. Their trade for the No. 3 overall pick was controversial because they gave up a lot, but they're now in line to get no worse than the third quarterback in the class. If they're in love with the quarterback who falls to them and properly develop him, the cost won't be remembered as an issue.
Oakland Raiders: Improving Secondary Depth
It's been a less than ideal offseason for the Oakland Raiders as Jon Gruden has re-entered the coaching ranks. The big question for him was whether he could blend what he learned while in the booth with his core philosophies and modern concepts to create a progressively evolving team. So far, the main positive for the Raiders has been beefing up the secondary with veteran depth options, with little else to choose from that qualifies as an overwhelmingly smart move.
Adding the 28-year-old Rashaan Melvin was the headline move for the cornerback group, as he is coming off a decent season with the Indianapolis Colts. His big moment came when he shadowed Pittsburgh Steelers star Antonio Brown and allowed just two receptions on four targets for 42 yards, per Jeff Ratcliffe of Pro Football Focus. His presence doesn't solidify the position long-term, but Melvin's an ideal rotational third corner who can allow Oakland to bring along a rookie corner behind him and across from Gareon Conley.
The other notable signing was safety Marcus Gilchrist. Gilchrist is an experienced player who has started 13 or more games in each of the last five years. The Raiders needed to replace Reggie Nelson and his locker room presence, and though Gilchrist doesn't have the talent of another free agent like Tre Boston, he does give the team a safety to pair with Karl Joseph in case Obi Melifonwu isn't ready.
Philadelphia Eagles: Trading for Michael Bennett
It took almost no time for the Philadelphia Eagles to take advantage of the Seattle Seahawks' roster deconstruction, as they agreed to a deal nearly a week before free agency began. Their trade for defensive end Michael Bennett continued the aggressiveness executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman and head coach Doug Pederson have shown, and that's a Super Bowl-winning recipe for the franchise. All it took was a 2018 fifth-round pick and wide receiver Marcus Johnson to get Bennett and a 2018 seventh-round pick.
From there, the Eagles had to fit Bennett into their tight cap situation. The retooling was worth it, as Bennett is going to join a deep and elite pass rush. He can stay at end or move inside to his preferred 3-technique spot on passing downs so he has the clear speed advantage on guards.
His presence only furthers the alignments defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz can unleash. He may only be a short-term option since he'll be 33 years old in November, but the cost was low in terms of assets, and he could be a difference-maker in the playoffs. The Eagles' depth should keep him fresher for longer as well.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Franchising Le'Veon Bell
The Pittsburgh Steelers have stayed true to their mantra of building through the draft this offseason. They're capped out and have so many stars on their second contracts that their chances to improve the team are limited. They could have risked replacing star running back Le'Veon Bell, but they decided it'd be better to hold on to him with a franchise tag.
The problem with trying to replace Bell is the impact on the roster if the plan doesn't work. While the Steelers had success with DeAngelo Williams as a fill-in in 2016, Bell is so dynamic as a receiver and runner that he's the catalyst for the offense's immense success. Even at $14.5 million, he's irreplaceable for 2018.
Look no further than the Dallas Cowboys' step back without Ezekiel Elliott in 2017 after his dominance in 2016. The Steelers' upside would drop considerably with a rookie or mid-level veteran instead of Bell. It makes sense for the team to reward Bell with a proper long-term deal so it can continue to compete even as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger declines.
San Francisco 49ers: Investing in the Offense
The momentum around the San Francisco 49ers is almost palpable. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and head coach Kyle Shanahan have been major positives, but general manager John Lynch also deserves credit for finding unique talents who fit Shanahan's offensive plan. Their smartest move this offseason isn't just one, but rather a set of moves to invest in the offense.
It started with extending Garoppolo for five years. The $137.5 million contract is huge, but it set the tone that this is a franchise ready to taking the next step. A subsequent extension for wide receiver Marquise Goodwin was also manageable and readied the team for free agency.
In terms of talent, there's no question the additions of center Weston Richburg and running back Jerick McKinnon will help Shanahan build a diverse attack. Richburg needs to stay healthy after a concussion ended his New York Giants stint, but he was a great blocker prior to that injury. McKinnon's contract is essentially a one-year deal that bloats to a salary he's unlikely to justify, but he can line up all over the field and is a weapon. These moves will provide a jolt for a unit that didn't need massive additions.
Seattle Seahawks: Starting the Rebuild
The price of contending for a half-decade finally caught up to the Seattle Seahawks. In a culture reset, the Seahawks have so far parted with six starters and five rotational players from their 2017 roster and could also lose both Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril. There's no question Seattle has gotten worse, but it was the right time to rebuild around Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner.
That doesn't mean everything hasn't been painful or part of a bad process by general manager John Schneider. Allowing Sheldon Richardson to leave in free agency after trading a second-round pick for him was poor planning, and it won't be easy to replace wide receiver Paul Richardson Jr. and tight end Jimmy Graham. A step back in 2018 could help the Seahawks refresh their cap situation and picks stockpile.
The key to this rebuild is the front office and coaching staff finding better talent than they have since 2013. The last solid draft Schneider had was in 2012, and there have been far too many misses since then. Sitting out free agency wasn't ideal, as there's still enough in Seattle for the team to try to compete this year, but this was the right time to jump start the long-term plan.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Beefing Up the Defensive Line
The free-agent market didn't pan out quite as well for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as it could've, considering the team had so much cap room with which to work. Sometimes that happens, but there was a positive for the Buccaneers, even if it wasn't a star-studded class of signings. They beefed up their defensive line, helping both their pass rush and run defense.
They swapped 32-year-old defensive end Robert Ayers for the 29-year-old Vinny Curry to help their anemic pass rush. Curry, who signed a three-year deal worth $27 million, had only three sacks last year but is great at pressuring quarterbacks.
The run defense also received a boost, with both Mitch Unrein and Beau Allen joining the team's versatile defensive front. Allen's a stout nose tackle who is a handful at the point of attack and will allow Tampa Bay's speedy linebackers to take advantage of opened gaps. Unrein isn't quite as effective, but he's still an upgrade as a gap-eater compared to the limited group the team had in 2017.
Tennessee Titans: Adding Dion Lewis to the Backfield
The Tennessee Titans quietly may have had one of the best offseasons thus far. Replacing head coach Mike Mularkey was a surprising but good decision, and the team retained right guard Josh Kline. The additions of former New England Patriots Dion Lewis and Malcolm Butler were also upgrades over their incumbents, giving the team a higher floor than it had previously.
The Lewis signing was the shrewder move between the two because of his dynamic skill set. Tennessee needed elusiveness in the backfield to pair with Derrick Henry, and Lewis brings that and more. According to ESPN's Mike Clay, Lewis led the league in yards after contact per attempt, and Henry finished third.
At just $19.8 million over four years, Lewis was a terrific value. His quickness in open space and talent as a receiver are top-notch and will complement the numerous possession receivers the Titans employ. His health has been an issue in the past, but the 27-year-old has stayed athletic and bouncy despite lower-body injuries.
Washington Redskins: Re-Signing Zach Brown
Few teams have made as many considerable changes as the Washington Redskins this offseason, starting with their trade for quarterback Alex Smith, their signing of wide receiver Paul Richardson Jr. and the departure of starting cornerback Bashaud Breeland. It remains to be seen how their in-house talent will mesh with their new parts, but it's clear one move was a great decision.
Washington re-signed inside linebacker Zach Brown to a three-year deal for $24 million to ensure the team stayed strong at the position despite a weak linebacker market. Brown was a flier pick-up late in the offseason last year after he had a strong 2016 with the Buffalo Bills. He proved to be a great signing, ranking seventh in the league at his position, according to B/R NFL1000 inside linebacker scout Jerod Brown. He's especially strong against the run with his ability to fill gaps and finish tackles.
The Redskins defense will be better if the team replaces Breeland and Kendall Fuller with Quinton Dunbar and Fabian Moreau and their young defensive linemen and safeties grown. Had Brown departed, Washington would have likely settled for a lesser player at similar money or been forced to allocate a draft pick on the position.