Every NFL Team's Smartest Move so Far This Offseason

Sean Tomlinson@@SeanGTomlinsonNFL AnalystMay 26, 2017

Every NFL Team's Smartest Move so Far This Offseason

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    We're in the period of the calendar when NFL general managers are filled with anxiety. Or at least more anxiety than, say, your average Tuesday.

    They entered the offseason with a canvas to paint. And now that free agency and the draft are long in the rearview mirror, their artwork is drying out and ready to be displayed in late July at training camp.

    Oh sure, there are still critical roster cut-down calls to be made. But the key decisions both in the short and long term are done for one more year. Now it's a matter of sitting, watching and hoping the plan unfolds correctly.

    Of all the moves made by each team, there's usually one that stands out. It can be the veteran free agent inserted in the right place or the top draft pick who becomes part of a talent foundation for years.

Arizona Cardinals

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    Smartest Move: Drafting Budda Baker

    The Arizona Cardinals took some serious hits defensively during free agency, which made their draft focus clear. They selected unfairly athletic linebacker Haason Reddick in the first round and then were aggressive when the ideal safety for their system was waiting for an NFL home early in the second round.

    The Cardinals traded up to get safety Budda Baker, who addresses a clear need after Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger departed during free agency. More importantly, Baker is a multi-faceted defender who will be used in a variety of ways. He swings a mean tackling hammer in the defensive backfield and can be trusted as a nickel corner.

    He can do a bit of everything and do it all well. Baker recorded five interceptions during his time with the Washington Huskies and was effective as a blitzer in 2016, with three sacks.

Atlanta Falcons

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    Smartest Move: Signing Dontari Poe

    The Atlanta Falcons had the league's leading pass-rusher on their roster during a season when they represented the NFC in the Super Bowl, and getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks was still a weakness. Even with outside linebacker Vic Beasley's 15.5 sacks, overall the Falcons still ranked a mid-pack 16th in 2016 with 34 sacks.

    Enter Dontari Poe, the defensive tackle who came at a discount in free agency after signing a one-year "prove it" deal worth $8 million. Poe has been battling chronic back problems for a few seasons, and that zapped him of some effectiveness. But if the Falcons can take a less-is-more approach by reducing Poe's snaps slightly, there's a chance the 2014 version of the former first-round pick could return.

    That's the guy who generated a consistent interior pass rush, finishing the 2014 season with six sacks and 27 total pressures, per Pro Football Focus. Poe is still only 26 years old, and the Falcons will have a lethal pass rush if he regains his top form alongside Beasley.

Baltimore Ravens

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    Smartest Move: Signing Tony Jefferson

    There are times during every offseason when a general manager needs to patch up holes. And there are other more cheerful occasions when he can build on an existing strength, making it the engine driving one of his units.

    That's what Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome did when he signed safety Tony Jefferson, who will now slide in alongside Eric Weddle. The Ravens finished 2016 tied for seventh in giving up only 6.8 passing yards per attempt.

    Now they've added a safety who is solid in coverage and, more importantly, an aggressive presence against the run. Jefferson led all safeties in 2016 while recording a stop on 10.5 percent of his run snaps, per PFF.

Buffalo Bills

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    Smartest Move: Drafting Zay Jones

    No smart person called Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin and Justin Hunter franchise-defining receivers. But they played roles and were quality depth options for the Buffalo Bills behind Sammy Watkins, the oft-injured potential star who has missed 11 games over the past two seasons.

    Getting an immediate-impact wide receiver at some point in the 2017 offseason was a clear priority if the Bills wanted to have an offensive pulse, and Zay Jones was a glowing prospect to target with a trade up early in the second round.

    The Bills moved up to grab Jones at 37th overall after he recorded 2,845 receiving yards over his final two years at East Carolina. That run of brilliance was highlighted by a 2016 season when his hands were magnetized as he hauled in 158 receptions.

    Jones was also targeted 216 times in 2016, the most for any college wide receiver during a single season over the past three years, per PFF. He has the tools to be an impact player on a depth chart that's still pretty shallow.

Carolina Panthers

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    Smartest Move: Drafting Christian McCaffrey

    Even just a few years ago, the thought of drafting a running back like Christian McCaffrey with a top-10 pick would have felt absurd. That sort of draft real estate was reserved for running backs whose ample shoulders could take the weight of a massive carry total while plowing away between the tackles.

    But thankfully, creativity and offensive innovation has taken over since then, and a running back is no longer asked to fit into one rigid box. Good luck containing Christian McCaffrey to that box, or just containing him at all.

    The Panthers needed to stop exposing quarterback Cam Newton to repeated blows. And more importantly, they also needed to become less predictable offensively. Drafting McCaffrey with their eighth overall pick checks off both those boxes.

    We'll call McCaffrey a running back only because every player needs a position title. He'll still get plenty of carries and is fully capable of being effective as an inside runner despite being a little undersized at 5'11" and 202 pounds. But he can line up and run routes just as well as any receiver and is dangerous in space. That led to 4,577 yards from scrimmage over his final two years at Stanford, along with 29 touchdowns.

    McCaffrey will change the character of Carolina's offense and do it while quickly becoming a multi-dimensional threat at the next level.

Chicago Bears

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    Smartest Move: Drafting Adam Shaheen

    The Chicago Bears are rebuilding, and they'll be at it for a while. Starting the rebuilding process means collecting as many high-upside and uniquely skilled young pieces as possible. And tight end Adam Shaheen will likely emerge as an offensive pillar fast.

    Shaheen doesn't move like someone who stands 6'6" tall and weighs nearly 280 pounds. The fluidity in his movement isn't normal or fair as he gallops in the open field. That led to 867 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns in 2016 for the former Ashland University stud. He can pile up yards after the catch while also functioning as a looming red-zone target.

    There's always some hesitation around how production at a lower level of college football will translate over to the NFL, so it may take a little bit of time initially for Shaheen to adjust. But once he does, the body type and unnatural open-field speed are there for him to fit the modern multi-purpose tight end mold.

Cincinnati Bengals

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    Smartest Move: Drafting Joe Mixon

    I'm not sure when it will feel safe to stop mentioning the caveat that we're only discussing Joe Mixon the running back and not his off-field conduct here. But it feels especially important to say it while highlighting him as the Cincinnati Bengals' smartest offseason move.

    He's their smartest move in a football sense, of course, and certainly not from any public relations perspective. Mixon was arguably the best all-around running back in his draft class and would have been right up there in that conversation with Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette had it not been for his character red flags.

    At 6'1" and 226 pounds, he's a powerful downhill runner and used that one-cut strength to average 6.8 yards per carry over two years with the Oklahoma Sooners. He's also elusive in space as a receiver, piling up 894 receiving yards over two seasons.

    In total, Mixon averaged 116.8 yards from scrimmage per game during his college career, and his diverse skill set could quickly vault him to the top of the Bengals' running back depth chart.

Cleveland Browns

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    Smartest Move: Drafting David Njoku

    The Cleveland Browns don't get extra credit here for selecting defensive end Myles Garrett with their first overall pick. That shouldn't have required much thought, and it was smart only in the sense they avoided tragedy.

    The Browns had an impressive draft and a solid offseason overall, but the best move was pouncing on tight end David Njoku after identifying his rare athletic talent.

    The Browns used their backlog of draft picks to trade back into the first round and secure Njoku's services, adding another explosive piece to a young offense set to grow together in the coming years. A former high jump champion in high school, Njoku averaged 16.6 yards per reception over two seasons with the Miami Hurricanes.

    But what separates Njoku is what he did in the open field at a high level of college football. At 6'4" and 246 pounds, he averaged 11.2 yards after the catch per reception in 2016, per PFF, which bested all draft-eligible tight ends by over a yard.

Dallas Cowboys

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    Smartest Move: Drafting Taco Charlton

    The cap-crunched Dallas Cowboys didn't have the financial flexibility to do much during free agency. Their little wiggle room against the cap led to the departures of several key defenders, including defensive backs Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox.

    That stung, but the Cowboys' draft priority still lay up front with their 13th-ranked pass rush. Which is why defensive end Taco Charlton's name was called with the 28th overall pick.

    Charlton is fresh off a season with 10 sacks and 13.5 tackles for a loss during his final year with the Michigan Wolverines. That production was fueled by his quick burst off the line of scrimmage and daunting length at 6'6" and 277 pounds allowing him to turn the corner.

    "Rare combination of size, length and athletic traits as a rusher," wrote NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein in his pre-draft scouting report. "Long-levered frame with athletic, knotted calves. Brings freaky athletic traits to the table and is still growing into his body."

    The Cowboys are in dire need of a pass-rusher to anchor their defensive front after defensive end Benson Mayowa led the team with only six sacks in 2016. Charlton has the physical makeup and skill to grow into that role.

Denver Broncos

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    Smartest Move: Taking a flier on Jamaal Charles

    The risks tied to signing Jamaal Charles glowed as bright as any Vegas neon sign. They're also the same risks associated with any oft-injured 30-year-old running back. He could blow apart his knee once again, finishing his career for good.

    But those risks really don't exist for the Denver Broncos. They signed Charles to a one-year contract that contains exactly zero guaranteed money. So they're not committed to him at all and can easily discard Charles at no cost if he rips apart another muscle or is simply ineffective.

    And on the much sunnier side of that deal, they could have the best bargain of the offseason on their hands.

    The running backs who are still able to remain effective into their 30s are often the ones with Charles' pass-catching talent. He's logged four career seasons with 40-plus receptions, with a single-season high of 693 receiving yards.

    If the Broncos get even, say, 60 percent of that Jamaal Charles, they'll be swimming in found money. Charles could be deployed in a passing-down role that would minimize the punishment he has to endure, and in that role he'd be a cozy security blanket for quarterback Trevor Siemian, who's primarily a caretaker for the Broncos offense.

Detroit Lions

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    Smartest Move: Signing T.J. Lang

    The Detroit Lions played a whole lot of cardiac football in 2016, with seven of their games decided by a field goal or less. Either keeping the leads they had or winning more comfortably would have been easier with a better rushing offense. But that area was woeful, with the Lions averaging a tiny 3.7 yards per carry (27th).

    They needed better run-blocking and a blocker like T.J. Lang. Now the Lions have him.

    The Lions landed the best guard available in free agency. Lang's contract, with $19 million guaranteed, does come with some risk. He'll turn 30 years old in September and has battled a foot problem over the past few seasons. But that risk can easily be stomached if Lang does what's expected and helps to make the Lions offense less one-dimensional. 

Green Bay Packers

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    Smartest Move: Signing Martellus Bennett

    Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has always been able to elevate the play of those around him. But it's helpful when one of his main targets doesn't need any elevating, which is the case with newly signed tight end Martellus Bennett.

    Bennett is one of the league's more underrated talents at tight end. He finished with 701 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in 2016 for the New England Patriots, even though he limped around for some of the season and was also playing behind Rob Gronkowski during a chunk of the year.

    It was his third career year with 700-plus yards, and they've all come since 2013. Bennett can glide up the seam to become a consistently open large-bodied target for Rodgers and be reliable in the red zone.

Houston Texans

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    Smartest Move: Drafting Deshaun Watson

    There were some concerns about the 2016 quarterback draft class, as it wasn't a year anchored by a quarterback who spiked table sales in NFL cities because scouts were pounding them so hard.

    But the Houston Texans couldn't afford to wait on a quarterback any longer. They've won their division two straight years and somehow finished with records above .500 while trotting out the likes of Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett and Brock Osweiler at quarterback.

    They have a talent-filled defense capable of propping up subpar quarterback play. But the Texans needed competence at football's most important position to take the next step and advance past the divisional round for the first time in franchise history.

    Now Deshaun Watson comes in as the hopeful savior for all that ails the Texans offense.

    The Texans were aggressive when Watson's mini-fall began, trading their first-round pick in 2018 to the Cleveland Browns. Then they grabbed Watson at 12th overall and are now banking on his experience at Clemson under bright spotlights leading to a smooth NFL transition.

    Watson played in two national championship games at Clemson and most recently threw for 420 yards and three touchdowns during a win over Alabama and its daunting defense. The speed of the NFL shouldn't be overwhelming after he learned and excelled in that environment.

Indianapolis Colts

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    Smartest Move: Drafting Malik Hooker

    It's debatable how smart the Indianapolis Colts had to be when they made the easy decision to draft safety Malik Hooker after he somehow fell to 15th overall. But he's on their roster and is about to make new general manager Chris Ballard look rather intelligent.

    Hooker recorded seven interceptions during his final season of swarming around the Ohio State Buckeye's secondary. But his game-changing ability doesn't stop there, as Hooker did much more than merely give the ball back to his offense. He often exploded immediately after the interception to gain great field position or just score himself.

    Hooker scored three defensive touchdowns in 2016 and totaled 181 return yards after his interceptions. He averaged 25.9 yards per interception return, showing his instincts to make a key play at a critical time.

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Smartest Move: Signing A.J. Bouye

    This was a toss-up. The Jacksonville Jaguars had a high draft pick that turned into running back Leonard Fournette, and they also added to an already promising defensive line with defensive end Calais Campbell.

    But if you're going to throw around lots of sweet, sweet cash in free agency, it's wise to dump it on a 25-year-old cornerback who's just beginning to blossom.

    The Jaguars paid a hefty price for A.J. Bouye, as expected. He'll receive $26 million guaranteed and $67.5 million in total over five years. But Bouye should easily justify that investment because he hasn't even reached his talent peak yet. That's a scary thought after he recorded 16 passes defensed in 2016 and hauled in two interceptions during the playoffs.

    Bouye also finished his breakout season with a passer rating in coverage of 58.5, per PFF. Suddenly the Jaguars have perhaps the league's best young cornerback duo after pairing him with Jalen Ramsey.

Kansas City Chiefs

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    Smartest Move: Drafting Kareem Hunt

    Some quality running back talent was always going to be on the board in the third round and beyond during a loaded draft at the position. The Kansas City Chiefs identified who they wanted on Day 2 and then traded up to make sure Kareem Hunt would be on their roster.

    Hunt is a multi-talented running back who can sustain the burden of a heavy workload while weighing 225 pounds. He did that during his final year at Toledo, turning 262 carries into 1,475 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.

    But he can also contribute on every down and is slippery in space as a pass-catcher. His 2016 season was highlighted by a breakout in that regard, as Hunt finished with 403 receiving yards.

    The skill set he offers is so widespread that ESPN.com Chiefs writer Adam Teicher is already projecting Hunt to be the team's leading rusher and leading pass-catcher at running back. Spencer Ware will have something to say about that during training camp.

    But even if Hunt is on the lower end of a time-share with Ware, he'll still receive plenty of snaps in the Chiefs' run-first offense.

Los Angeles Chargers

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    Smartest Move: Drafting Mike Williams

    Wide receiver Mike Williams may be falling behind a bit while missing workouts due to a back injury. That will only be a temporary speed bump, though, and at worst will mean Williams may not truly show his NFL potential until later in his rookie year.

    The injury doesn't change his long-term outlook. The talent ceiling of the Chargers' seventh overall pick is high because of Williams' large-bodied frame. At 6'4" and 218 pounds, he uses that body to win jump balls and pin defenders on his back.

    His use of those physical tools led to 1,361 receiving yards for Williams and 11 touchdowns during his final year with Clemson. The decision to draft him will go a long way toward rejuvenating the Chargers' passing offense and providing much-needed depth behind oft-injured top receiver Keenan Allen.

    Quarterback Philip Rivers was forced to test too many tight throwing windows with Allen out, which resulted in a career single-season high 21 interceptions.

Los Angeles Rams

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    Smartest Move: Signing Andrew Whitworth

    The equation here was simple. The Los Angeles Rams risked seeing Jared Goff, their young quarterback, get his confidence (and possibly bones) shattered while playing in front of an offensive line that resembled a puff pastry.

    They needed to be aggressive and snatch up one of the few premier tackles available in a barren market at the position. Which is exactly what they did by signing veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth to an affordable and team-friendly deal.

    Whitworth signed a three-year deal worth $33.75 million. But there's only $2.5 million in guaranteed money left after the first year, according to Spotrac, meaning the Rams could escape the contract if the 35-year-old starts to decline.

    That's always a fear with any player in his mid-30s. But Whitworth hasn't shown any sign of falling from his top-level perch yet, and in 2016 he allowed just four sacks over 1,064 snaps, per PFF, along with just 15 pressures.

    Now he'll be in charge of protecting Goff, who was sacked 26 times over only seven starts as a rookie.

Miami Dolphins

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    Smartest Move: Re-signing Kenny Stills

    The Miami Dolphins made the playoffs for the first time since 2008 in Adam Gase's first season as head coach. When a franchise experiences success for the first time in years, it's important to retain the key cogs that made the playoff berth possible, and especially the home run-swinging wide receiver who's developing a strong connection with your quarterback.

    That's why re-signing wide receiver Kenny Stills was a vital move in the Dolphins' offseason. Stills recorded a career single-season high nine touchdown receptions during his first season in Gase's offense. Touchdown totals can often be inconsistent for receivers from year to year, but Stills' status as a deep threat won't go anywhere at his age.

    He's a 25-year-old burner who averaged 17.3 yards per reception in 2016, which ranked fifth among all wide receivers. Now he's under contract for the next four years, a period that should cover most of his prime seasons.

Minnesota Vikings

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    Smartest Move: Drafting Dalvin Cook

    The Minnesota Vikings are at their best offensively when they can run over defenses with child-like joy, the sort only matched when a puddle needs to be investigated.

    The problem in 2016, of course, is they couldn't do that once Adrian Peterson's season ended abruptly due to injury. Then the offense was put almost solely on quarterback Sam Bradford's arm, which isn't a safe place for any offense.

    The Vikings' quest in the 2017 offseason was to return to their natural offensive form, with a power running attack working to give Bradford space. And they can do that after selecting running back Dalvin Cook in the second round.

    Cook's bowling-ball running style resulted in an unpleasant shade of black and blue for opposing defenders during his days at Florida State. In his final two years with the Seminoles, he accounted for 4,188 yards from scrimmage. He'll dramatically improve a Vikings rushing offense that averaged only 3.2 yards per carry in 2016.

New England Patriots

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    Smartest Move: Trading for Brandin Cooks

    New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady received serious MVP consideration in 2016, finishing second behind winner Matt Ryan. That happened after he threw for 3,554 yards and 28 touchdowns even while missing four games, and for much of the season wide receiver Chris Hogan was one of his main targets.

    Now he'll be paired with a receiver who has recorded two 1,100-plus yard years over just three NFL seasons.

    Bill Belichick used his hooded sorcery to get Brandin Cooks from the New Orleans Saints in exchange for first- and third-round picks. He did that while surely well aware his golden quarterback is about to turn 40 years old in August, and not even Brady can fight off age demons forever.

    Now the Patriots offense will feature a true field-stretcher for the first time since the Randy Moss glory days. And as Cooks is tearing up the outside with his 20 touchdown catches over 42 regular-season games, slot receiver Julian Edelman and tight end Rob Gronkowski will capitalize on the space he opens up.

    Good luck knocking off the champs.

New Orleans Saints

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    Smartest Move: Drafting Alvin Kamara

    Early in the draft, the New Orleans Saints gave their 32nd-ranked pass defense a kick to the rear by stopping Marshon Lattimore's tumble at No. 11. They also installed a solid blocking presence in front of aging quarterback Drew Brees by picking up tackle Ryan Ramczyk.

    But their best pick, and the best fit, came a couple of rounds later when the Saints selected running back Alvin Kamara.

    The Saints have always had a pass-catching running back who can be used in a variety of ways and torch defenses on misdirection plays and screens. Reggie Bush thrived in that role, and so did Darren Sproles.

    Now it's Kamara's turn. He has the tools to slide right in to Sean Payton's offensive scheme and do his best Bush or Sproles imitation.

    Kamara forced 23 missed tackles in 2016 for the Tennessee Volunteers on only 40 receptions, per PFF. His quick feet and burst allow for rapid changes in direction and plenty of chunk plays after the catch. So yes, he'll fit right in and bring back fond memories of Sproles making many, many defenders whiff.

New York Giants

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    Smartest Move: Signing Brandon Marshall

    Eli Manning is gradually slipping toward a time in the not-so-distant future when he'll be better suited for selling Papa John's Pizza. But for now, the 36-year-old quarterback still has something left, and the New York Giants need to squeeze out every last bit of production.

    Which is why it was smart to bring in wide receiver Brandon Marshall. He's far removed from his younger peak years too, at the age of 33, but as a large possession target, Marshall won't age as fast as most receivers.

    He's perfectly suited to pair with Manning, who averaged only 6.7 yards per attempt in 2016 and chucked up plenty of wayward, wobbly passes. Marshall has made a career out of catching throws that have no business turning into receptions. In 2015, he set a record by becoming the first player in league history to record six seasons with 100-plus receptions.

    Marshall alone could prolong Manning's career. And if he doesn't, then Manning is out of excuses, especially after tight end Evan Engram and running back Wayne Gallman were also added to the Giants offense during the draft.

New York Jets

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    Smartest Move: Drafting Jamal Adams

    The New York Jets had gaping holes throughout their roster entering this offseason. Safety Jamal Adams could fix several of them, as he was possibly the best all-around defender in his draft class.

    Adams is a safety with the cover skills of a cornerback and often the field instincts of a linebacker against the run. The Jets took him with their sixth overall pick after Adams recorded 76 tackles in 2016 and 7.5 for a loss. He also finished that season with 33 defensive stops and graded out as the fifth-best coverage safety in his draft class, all per PFF.

    He'll add some much-needed bite to a defense that generated only eight interceptions in 2016, tied for the league's second-lowest total.

Oakland Raiders

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    Smartest Move: Signing Jared Cook

    Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr finished his 2016 season with a shining touchdown-to-interception ratio of 28:6. And he did that with Clive Walford, his top tight end, accounting for only 359 receiving yards.

    Jared Cook, meanwhile, finished 2016 with 377 receiving yards over only 10 regular-season games and then added 229 more yards in three playoff games.

    Signing Cook as a free agent gives Carr a weapon he's never had the luxury of using. Cook has been wildly inconsistent throughout his career, but he's still recorded three seasons with 600-plus receiving yards.

    Cook can threaten safeties up the seam, which will introduce another element to an offense that already has lots of talent on the outside in wide receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree.

Philadelphia Eagles

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    Smartest Move: Signing Alshon Jeffery

    Carson Wentz went through something close to the standard rookie quarterback season in 2016, instead of the Dak Prescott rookie quarterback season. In short, he was great, then defenses adjusted, and we're still waiting on Wentz's countermove.

    Much of Wentz's rookie struggles were of his own doing. He was often inaccurate and made poor decisions, which ended in a passer rating of 79.3 and 14 interceptions. But he was left to flounder by a group of pass-catchers who dropped far, far too many catchable balls. That's where Alshon Jeffery comes in.

    Jeffery was signed by the Eagles because his specialty is skying high and securing balls placed in tough areas. He established himself in the NFL with high-flying acrobatics and has recorded two seasons with 1,100-plus receiving yards.

    He'll now lead the support system for a young quarterback after Jordan Matthews was unreliable in 2016 and finished with a drop rate of 8.75, per PFF.

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Smartest Move: Drafting T.J. Watt

    The Pittsburgh Steelers have a defense with some core young pieces who will go through growing pains, but they'll grow together nonetheless and likely toward an impressive result. That includes linebackers Ryan Shazier and Bud Dupree as well as cornerbacks Artie Burns and Ross Cockrell.

    But it's always a problem when your leading pass-rusher is 39 years old.

    Outside linebacker James Harrison led the Steelers in 2016 with five sacks. He's a workout warrior who hit the gym after a playoff win. So yes, Harrison will keep throwing haymakers in his fight against age. But like all of us, he'll lose that fight eventually, which is why the Steelers wisely drafted T.J. Watt to take the pass-rushing torch and hold it high.

    The younger Watt erupted during his final year at Wisconsin with 11.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for a loss. Watt vastly improved his overall pressure too—he had 56 pressures as a junior after registering just 12 as a sophomore, per PFF. He's a multi-faceted defender who's also effective against the run and can slide inside when needed.

    Suddenly the foundation of the Steelers' linebacker corps is looking strong and youthful, with Watt being groomed to assume a role next to Shazier and Dupree.

San Francisco 49ers

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    Smartest Move: Trading back from the No. 2 spot

    John Lynch inherited an utter catastrophe of a defense when he became the San Francisco 49ers' new general manager. The 49ers run defense provided the resistance of a gentle breeze while giving up 165.9 rushing yards per game, and the pass defense wasn't much better, allowing 30 touchdowns through the air (tied for 25th).

    A new front office and coaching staff needed solutions in multiple areas throughout the defense, and Lynch needed them now. So in a sales job that's still baffling, he somehow convinced the Chicago Bears to trade up to the No. 2 spot and in return give the 49ers their first-, third- and fourth-round picks in 2017 and a third-round pick in 2018.

    The end result was the 49ers moving back one whole slot, where defensive end Solomon Thomas was still waiting. And then later in the round, Lynch felt like he had accumulated enough draft clout to be aggressive and trade up for middle linebacker Reuben Foster.

    So a punching-bag defense was given two of the top players at their positions before the first round was over. Just like that, Lynch gave the 49ers something they had been missing since the Jim Harbaugh era: hope.

Seattle Seahawks

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    Smartest Move: Signing Eddie Lacy

    In 2016, the Seattle Seahawks strayed a bit from their usual offensive approach of power running and trying to make opponents ingest footballs. They didn't do it by choice really, but rather because of injuries, with running backs Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise both missing significant time.

    The logical move to inject life into a 25th-ranked rushing offense then was to put another running back in that stable, hoping for both health and effectiveness. Eddie Lacy can provide the latter, but the former is still in question.

    However, the one-year contract Lacy signed with the Seahawks minimizes injury risk and gives the Seahawks an early-down bulldozer if he can keep his persistent weight issues under control. Lacy has an established history of production and logged 3,001 yards from scrimmage over his first two NFL seasons with the Green Bay Packers.

    He's still only 26 years old, and if anything even close to the early career Lacy returns, the Seahawks will have a deep backfield.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Smartest Move: Signing DeSean Jackson

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were in playoff contention at one point in 2016, and the 9-7 record they finished with while falling short was the team's best since 2010.

    The missing offensive link was another receiver who could draw attention away from Mike Evans, the towering wideout who was targeted a league-leading 175 times in 2016. The solution was to sign DeSean Jackson, one of the league's best deep secondary destroyers.

    Jackson has averaged 17-plus yards per reception in each of his past three seasons. That includes a 17.9 per-catch average in 2016 during his age-29 season, showing he's not slowing or aging yet.

    Jackson was the first piece added this offseason to a now stacked Bucs offense, with wide receiver Chris Godwin and tight end O.J. Howard coming later in the draft.

Tennessee Titans

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    Smartest Move: Drafting Taywan Taylor

    The Tennessee Titans doubled down on building a young wide receiver core to pair with quarterback Marcus Mariota. They did that when Corey Davis was already on their roster after the first round, and then speedster Taywan Taylor joined him in the third round.

    With Taylor's selection, the Titans instantly went from having an underwhelming group of receivers alongside a quarterback who was overwhelming opponents to fielding an abundance of speed, flash and flare.

    Taylor was the final touch. He can twist defensive backs around with his route-running and quickness out of breaks, tools that led to 98 catches for 1,730 yards during his final season at Western Kentucky.

    With Taylor and Davis set to grow next to Mariota, the Titans will be serious appointment television for years. That's going to require a lot of popcorn.

Washington Redskins

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    Smartest Move: Signing Terrelle Pryor

    Being even a passable and starting-worthy player in the NFL at any position is supposed to be ridiculously hard. Yet somehow Terrelle Pryor made 10 starts as a quarterback and then switched positions to record 1,007 yards on 77 catches as a receiver at the age of 27.

    He's not normal or fair, and now Pryor is part of a Washington Redskins offense brimming with talent. Josh Doctson, the Redskins' 2016 first-round pick, is back and healthy after an Achilles injury derailed his rookie season. And slot receiver Jamison Crowder, who had three games with 100-plus receiving yards in 2016, is ready for a larger role.

    Pryor was signed to replace DeSean Jackson. He'll do it while bringing his circus-catch act to an offense that needs to make one more run at deep playoff success during what could be quarterback Kirk Cousins' final year in Washington.

    He was brought in on a very affordable one-year deal worth only $6 million, too, and will be motivated now to earn much more in 2018.

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