2016 NFL Free-Agent Additions Shining with Their New Teams This Offseason
The early portion of the NFL offseason is always a time for optimism, and things are no different this year. When free agency kicked off back in March, the flurry of player acquisitions led to all kinds of fan excitement.
All that excitement, however, means nothing if players struggle to succeed with their new teams.
Unfortunately, we won't get to see these new additions on the field in meaningful games for a couple more months.
The good news is that organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamps have at least given us a glimpse of what's to come. For some players finding themselves with a new team this offseason, that glimpse is promising.
We're going to examine some 2016 offseason additions—acquired by either free agency or trade—who are already beginning to shine in their new homes.
A lot can change in training camp and the preseason, and this isn't a prediction of which players will succeed with their new teams in 2016. This is, however, a look at which players are already making positive impressions.
Tashaun Gipson, S, Jacksonville Jaguars
Former undrafted free agent Tashaun Gipson earned a reputation as a playmaking safety during his four seasons with the Cleveland Browns. In 50 career games, the Wyoming product racked up 22 passes defended, 14 interceptions and two defensive touchdowns.
The Jacksonville Jaguars jumped at the opportunity to add his talent in free agency. The team quickly signed him to a five-year, $36 million deal.
Jacksonville already seems pleased with its defensive investment.
"His ball instincts, his break on the ball, he understands the zone concept and we’re very excited about him at free safety," Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash said of Gipson, per Hays Carlyon of Jacksonville.com. "Extremely excited. … He already is [a leader]. He’s already taken some guys under his wing."
The Jaguars added some serious young talent in this year's draft in the form of cornerback Jalen Ramsey and linebacker Myles Jack. Having an accomplished and productive veteran like Gipson in the center of the secondary should help the unit grow together quickly.
Don't be surprised if Gipson helps make the Jaguars defense one of the most improved units in the league this season.
Prince Amukamara, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Gipson isn't the only offseason acquisition who has been standing out in the Jacksonville secondary. Former New York Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara has been grabbing the Jaguars' attention with his ability to adapt to his new unit.
"He did play a lot of press coverage," Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley recently explained, per Carlyon. "There are little nuances in how we teach it, but he's picked up on it real quick."
"One thing I really like about him is he can play bump and run," Jaguars defensive backs coach DeWayne Walker told Carlyon. "That's something that's standing out already."
Amukamara should have an opportunity to compete for a significant role in the Jaguars secondary in training camp. Jacksonville is bringing back 2015 starters Davon House and Aaron Colvin. However, it's important to remember those cornerbacks were starting for a unit that was rated just 30th in pass coverage by Pro Football Focus last season.
So far, it's looking like Amukamara has the goods to help that secondary improve in 2016.
Coby Fleener, TE, New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints made it a priority to scoop up tight end Coby Fleener in free agency this offseason. The team inked the four-year veteran to a sizable five-year, $36 million deal.
Based on offseason reports, it appears Fleener is already becoming one of quarterback Drew Brees' favorite targets. According to Christopher Dabe of NOLA.com, Fleener was one of the most targeted players during a recent June minicamp.
Brees seems to feel that by the time the regular season rolls around, Fleener can be one of the most unstoppable pass-catchers in the league, per Dabe:
The more time we have in this offense where he can understand the nuances and understand what I am thinking, and where I want him to be, and when I want him to be there, and when and where the ball is going to be thrown — that's when you really start cooking. That's when you feel like a guy is uncoverable. I don't care who is on him. He's 6-5 or 6-6, there is a place where I can throw the ball where he can get it or nobody can.
There should be little doubt that Fleener can be a premier tight end this season as long as Brees remains healthy and under center. The quarterback made a star out of Jimmy Graham, and he helped a 35-year-old Benjamin Watson produce a career year in 2015.
Fleener is already earning the trust and respect of Brees, which is likely the first step toward his own career year this season.
Brock Osweiler, QB, Houston Texans
The Houston Texans made a pretty big gamble this offseason when the team decided to hand free-agent quarterback Brock Osweiler a four-year, $72 million deal. Osweiler certainly showed some promise with the Denver Broncos last season, but there's no getting around the fact he has just seven pro starts under his belt.
Fortunately, it's beginning to look like Houston's big gamble was a smart one. At least, the Arizona State product has been providing his new team with plenty of optimism this offseason.
"So far, he's been exactly what we've expected," Texans head coach Bill O'Brien said of Osweiler, per John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. "He works extremely hard. He's a very bright guy. He's a good communicator with his teammates. He's very hard on himself. He's a fun guy to be around, a fun guy to coach—very competitive on the field. He's been exactly what we expected to this point."
Obviously, the Texans expected to put an end to their quarterback woes by signing Osweiler. Though we have yet to see him on the game field for Houston, it appears he has brought the traits needed to be the team's answer at quarterback.
"His leadership, coming out there wanting to be great, and holding everyone accountable, himself and us,” star receiver DeAndre Hopkins told the team's official website when discussing Osweiler's best attribute.
If Osweiler can continue to lead the Texans offense in the right direction, he could be taking the team back into the postseason in 2016.
Travis Benjamin, WR, San Diego Chargers
Last season, wide receiver Travis Benjamin burst onto the national stage with a breakout 966-yard, five-touchdown campaign with the Browns. The San Diego Chargers quickly moved to make him a member of their offense in free agency.
The Chargers inked the speedy Miami product to a four-year, $24 million deal.
Benjamin's speed has already been making a positive impression on his new quarterback, Philip Rivers.
"I already knew he was fast, but just getting around him, it is game-changing fast," Rivers said of Benjamin, per Eric D. Williams of ESPN.com. "Not that we’re just going to heave him a bunch of deep balls. But the threat that he can run by you, it makes every now and then an easy 10- or 12-yard completion."
The type of straight-line speed Benjamin possesses can definitely affect what Rivers and the rest of the Chargers do on offense. Not only can he keep opposing defenses from focusing on top wideout Keenan Allen, but he also can force defenders to play away from the line of scrimmage. This, in turn, could help improve San Diego's struggling ground game.
Having a quarterback of Rivers' caliber should also help Benjamin be an even better player than he was in 2015.
DeMarco Murray, RB, Tennessee Titans
The Philadelphia Eagles traded away running back DeMarco Murray early in the offseason, likely looking to turn the page on his disappointing 2015 campaign. Murray now has an opportunity to turn the page himself with the Tennessee Titans.
Though Murray may not regain the form that he possessed during his 2014 league-leading rushing campaign with the Dallas Cowboys, he has a chance to help the Titans in a variety of ways. He can be a mentor to rookie running back Derrick Henry, and he can help the continued development of second-year quarterback Marcus Mariota. Of course, the Titans would love it if Murray can also find a way to recapture his elite status.
So far, it seems the Titans like what they are seeing from Murray as both a player and a leader.
Titans rookie tackle Jack Conklin recently explained, per Jason Wolf of the Tennessean:
He runs hard. Watching him even, just with helmets on in OTAs, he’s always, he’s hard, and if you’re not doing something right, he’s going to get on you, and that’s exactly what you need.
For a running back, that’s something that’s a little new to me. He’s really a vocal guy. And it’s good. It really keeps everybody on their toes and everyone clicking because they know if they’re not doing something right, DeMarco is going to get on you about it. It makes everyone want to be perfect, because, you know, if we give him some space he’s going to do something special.
Acquiring Murray didn't cost Tennessee much—the team swapped fourth-round picks with Philadelphia—so the deal could well end up as one of the best bargains of the offseason. Right now, the Titans have to be happy with it.
Chris Hogan, WR, New England Patriots
The New England Patriots thought highly enough of division-rival receiver Chris Hogan to sign the restricted free agent to a three-year, $12 million offer sheet this offseason. The Buffalo Bills declined to match the offer, and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady got himself a new pass-catching toy.
As of now, it appears that the move to add Hogan was a smart one. The former lacrosse star and Monmouth product has consistently been the best receiver on the Patriots' practice field this offseason, according to Doug Kyed of NESN.com.
Hogan was the Patriots' best wide receiver in the offseason workout program, though he didn't have Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola to compete with.
Hogan caught nearly every ball thrown his way and showed quickness and precision in his route running. He looks like he'll be a consistent force in the Patriots' offense this season if the unpadded sessions are any indication.
Injuries to offensive skill-position players hurt the Patriots throughout the 2015 regular season and may have cost the team home-field advantage throughout the postseason. This is likely part of the reason why New England was quick to bring in pass-catchers like Hogan and tight end Martellus Bennett this offseason.
Hogan is already looking like a fine addition as a potential third or fourth wideout.
Nick Fairley, DT, New Orleans Saints
The Saints allowed a whopping 29.8 points per game during the 2015 season. No team in the league allowed more. This is precisely why it made sense to bring in defensive players like former first-round pick Nick Fairley this offseason.
Fairley wasn't always the most consistent player during his time with the Detroit Lions, but his one-year stint with the St. Louis Rams last year was solid. Pro Football Focus rated him 11th overall among defensive tackles for the season.
It seems like Fairley can find similar success this year with the Saints.
"I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the way he’s come out here and worked," Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen recently said, per Mike Triplett of ESPN.com. "He’s gotten better in this offseason. I think as long as he buys in to what we’re selling, I think he’s gonna have some success. … I’m excited to see what he can do. He’s a very talented player. And I think he’ll play well for us."
If Fairley can play at the same high level he did a year ago, the Saints will be getting quite the bargain. New Orleans signed Fairley to a one-year, $3 million prove-it deal. So far, Fairley has been proving the Saints made a good decision signing him.
Eric Weddle, S, Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens scooped up Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle in free agency to add some talent and leadership to a secondary rated 23rd in pass coverage by Pro Football Focus in 2015.
If the offseason has yielded an accurate indication of things to come, Weddle will also be bringing a new attitude to the unit.
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh recently spoke of Weddle, per Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com:
This guy’s got the kind of attitude that you respect and I think you respond to. He’s got an enthusiasm for the work day. He loves football. He loves every part of the work day. He loves every part of being in here and being a football player. There’s never something that you look at him and he’s not excited to do. That is infectious.
Weddle's ability to inject some enthusiasm in the Baltimore defense should greatly benefit the Ravens in the offseason. The team suffered through a variety of significant injuries and a disappointing season last year and is looking to rebound.
The Ravens are going to love his ability to play at a high level and to lead by example once the regular season gets underway. Right now, his addition is looking like a nearly perfect pairing for the Ravens defense.
All contract information via Spotrac.com.