Every NFL Team's Riskiest Move This Offseason

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistJuly 3, 2017

Every NFL Team's Riskiest Move This Offseason

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    Will the Vikings eventually regret declining Teddy Bridgewater's fifth-year option?
    Will the Vikings eventually regret declining Teddy Bridgewater's fifth-year option?Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

    Almost every move NFL teams make involves a little risk. In fact, even deciding against making a particular move is risky to an extent. Everything can backfire—sometimes slightly, other times tragically. 

    Here's a look at every team's riskiest move (or non-move) from the 2017 offseason. 

AFC East

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    What if Sammy Watkins finally stays healthy and puts up big numbers in 2017?
    What if Sammy Watkins finally stays healthy and puts up big numbers in 2017?Associated Press

    Buffalo Bills: Declined wide receiver Sammy Watkins' fifth-year option for 2018

    Just three years after trading up to take Watkins with the No. 4 overall selection in the 2014 NFL draft, the Bills are willing to flirt with the idea that the 24-year-old could hit the open market next offseason.

    It makes sense when you consider that Watkins has lacked consistency while battling injuries for much of his young career, but it's something they'll likely regret if the former Clemson star explodes in his fourth season. Yes, they drafted intriguing East Carolina product Zay Jones in Round 2 of the 2017 draft, but he's no guarantee. And they let their next three most active receivers—Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin and Justin Hunter—walk in free agency. 

    If Jones doesn't immediately emerge and Watkins puts together a 1,000-yard season like he did despite starting just 13 games in 2015, Buffalo will rue its choice. There's a chance the Bills have made the right call here, but if Watkins excels, the team will have cost itself an exciting young player or a heck of a lot of money. 


    Miami Dolphins: Gave aging linebacker Lawrence Timmons $11 million guaranteed

    Some risks are smaller than others. This one barely registers, but it's a risk nonetheless for a team that didn't roll a lot of dice this offseason. 

    Timmons was a Pro Bowler with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2014—and he probably should have been one in 2010—and he hasn't missed a game in seven years. That said, the 2007 first-round pick no longer looked like a starting-caliber player while struggling in all disciplines the last couple of seasons in Pittsburgh. 

    But the 31-year-old is getting starter money and is expected to play a large role in Miami, which is a little odd.

    The good news is Timmons has received strong reviews early on, with backup quarterback Matt Moore noting to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald that the 10-year veteran has been "flying around."

    Figuratively, I presume.


    New England Patriots: Signed cornerback Stephon Gilmore to a huge contract without trading Malcolm Butler

    It feels like when the Patriots made Gilmore the eighth highest-paid cornerback in March ($65 million over five years), they anticipated trading Butler, their incumbent top corner, before April's draft in Philadelphia. 

    But the Pats weren't able to work out a trade with the New Orleans Saints despite engaging in discussions, according to ESPN.com's Mike Triplett. And now they're stuck paying Gilmore—an inconsistent cover man who takes a lot of penalties and has played just one full season out of five—while Butler enters a contract year. 

    Of course, there are worse problems to have than this. Few feel sorry for the Pats for possessing one of the best 1-2 coverage duos in the NFL. But they might have used that money elsewhere if they knew they'd be keeping Butler, who will likely leave for no immediate compensation next offseason. 


    New York Jets: Purged the entire roster

    The Jets' offseason is essentially one huge risk. But it's arguably a brave and admirable one considering that by parting with Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, Nick Mangold, Calvin Pryor, Darrelle Revis, David Harris and Ryan Fitzpatrick in favor of what appears to be a full-blown rebuild, they're admitting they weren't on track to compete in the near future. 

    They're willingly sacrificing an outside chance at being half-decent and alienating impatient fans in order to reconstruct the roster basically from scratch. It'll be painful, but if the players they're choosing to build around—top 2017 picks Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye along with recent first-rounders Leonard Williams and Darron Lee, for starters—come through, it'll be worth it. 

    If they don't, the "Gang Green Purge of 2017" will backfire.

AFC North

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    There's a lot of pressure on top Bengals draft pick John Ross.
    There's a lot of pressure on top Bengals draft pick John Ross.John Minchillo/Associated Press

    Baltimore Ravens: Let two more high-quality offensive linemen go

    In terms of DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average), Football Outsiders ranked the Ravens offense 24th in the NFL last season. That unit also ranked in the bottom half of the league with 21.4 points per game, 5.2 yards per play and 347.7 yards per game. 

    And yet the Ravens will enter 2017 without five key players from that offense—receiver Steve Smith Sr., starting tight end/catch machine Dennis Pitta, Pro Bowl fullback Kyle Juszczyk, starting right tackle Rick Wagner and starting center Jeremy Zuttah. 

    Smith retired, Pitta was cut after suffering yet another major hip injury and Juszczyk became the highest-paid fullback in NFL history in San Francisco. But the Ravens had a chance to keep Wagner and Zuttah in order to maintain continuity along an offensive line that struggled last year after losing versatile starter Kelechi Osemele in free agency. 

    Instead, they let the former walk and traded the latter for a measly sixth-round pick in order to save about $3.5 million in cap space.

    It would have been tough for the Ravens to retain Wagner at a rate similar to the $9.5 million per year he's getting from the Detroit Lions. But by letting Wagner walk and dealing Zuttah, Baltimore has taken a big risk on offense and opened multiple spots on the O-line for competition. 


    Cincinnati Bengals: Used their top two picks on wide receiver John Ross and running back Joe Mixon

    The Bengals lost two strong starting offensive linemen in free agency (Kevin Zeitler and Andrew Whitworth), and they already have A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd and Brandon LaFell at wide receiver along with Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard at running back.

    And yet they used their top two picks on prospects who play those skill positions. 

    Not only did that strategy pose a risk in that it is forcing them to go young along the offensive line, but the rookies themselves are risky picks.

    Ross is known primarily for his record-breaking speed (4.22 40-yard dash)which is scary in a sport that requires a lot more than that from its players. But also, he's recovering from shoulder surgery and had some injury red flags entering the draft. 

    Mixon is risky because, well, he's Joe Mixon—a walking predraft red flag after he was videotaped punching a woman in the face in 2014 and followed that up with an altercation with a parking attendant last year. 

    Both players could become stars. But the Bengals had bigger holes elsewhere, and Ross and Mixon are far from sure things. 


    Cleveland Browns: Gave a $32.5 million contract to wide receiver Kenny Britt

    It's not that Britt isn't a good receiver, but the Browns didn't gamble on a first-round quarterback or any other 50-50 proposition free agents. They had a ton of money to spend and oodles of draft picks, and they took few risks. 

    But anytime you pay $32.5 million over four years to an eight-year veteran with zero Pro Bowls on his resume, you're taking a bit of a gamble. The Browns are betting that Britt's strong 2016 campaign—the first 1,000-yard season of his career at the age of 28—was a sign he's a late bloomer rather than a one-year wonder.

    And they're hoping he outperforms the departed Terrelle Pryor Sr., who is almost a year younger, has more tread on his tires and is much more physically gifted. Like Britt, Pryor went over 1,000 yards last year, but he did that in his first full season at the position. His ceiling is much higher than Britt's, yet he settled for a one-year, $6 million deal with the Washington Redskins. 


    Pittsburgh Steelers: Didn't draft a quarterback early 

    The Steelers have three offensive superstars in quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le'Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown. But only two of them—Bell and Brown—are young. Big Ben "seriously" considered retiring this offseason at the age of 35, according to former teammate Willie Colon on PFT Live

    The signal-caller didn't confirm that he'd be returning for his 14th NFL season until April, which might indicate he won't be sticking around a lot longer. With that in mind, the Steelers might want to start looking for options to take the reins from Roethlisberger the moment he steps aside. Otherwise, they risk having to suffer quarterback growing pains while Bell and Brown are in their primes. 

    Yes, Pittsburgh drafted Tennessee product Josh Dobbs in Round 4. But it picked four other players before that, and six quarterbacks went off the board before Dobbs. Had the Steelers drafted somebody like DeShone Kizer or Davis Webb a little earlier, they'd likely be increasing their odds of finding a franchise quarterback of the future. 

AFC South

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    Texans first-round pick Deshaun Watson faces long odds.
    Texans first-round pick Deshaun Watson faces long odds.Bob Levey/Associated Press

    Houston Texans: Traded up to draft quarterback Deshaun Watson

    Let's be real: Every draft pick contains risk. Quarterbacks in Round 1 are particularly risky because they're supposed to become franchise leaders but fail more often than not. That has to make trading up to draft a first-round quarterback one of the riskiest moves in the NFL. 

    By dealing their 2018 first-round pick to the Browns in order to move up 13 spots to take Watson 12th overall, the Texans essentially used two first-round picks on one quarterback.

    Recent history isn't on their side. As I previously wrote:

    Between 2006 and 2015, 26 quarterbacks were drafted in the first round. Only 10 of those 26 are NFL starters right now, only 14 are currently under contract with NFL teams and only one—Joe Flacco of the Ravens—has won a Super Bowl. Seventeen of the 26 have never made a Pro Bowl, and only two—Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers in 2015 and Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons in 2016—have been first-team All-Pros.

    So yeah, committing two first-round picks to one unproven signal-caller is a heck of a gamble. 


    Indianapolis Colts: Fired their general manager but not their head coach 

    Put simply, the all-too-often dysfunctional Colts risked setting themselves up for more dysfunction by forcing new general manager Chris Ballard to work with a head coach he didn't hire.

    It's easy to understand why Indy canned GM Ryan Grigson after a talented team with an elite franchise quarterback in Andrew Luck went 8-8 and missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, but owner Jim Irsay might have been better off cleaning house and starting fresh. 

    Head coach Chuck Pagano was supposed to make the Indianapolis defense great. Instead, that unit has ranked below the league median in four of Pagano's five seasons, and the Colts are coming off their worst defensive season yet. In terms of DVOA, Football Outsiders ranked them 29th in football, and they surrendered more than 24 points per game for the second straight season.

    Ballard is saying all the right things to the media about Pagano's job status, but hiring a general manager to work with a coach who is already on board frequently backfires.


    Jacksonville Jaguars: Didn't bring in competition at quarterback

    Supposed Jaguars franchise quarterback Blake Bortles isn't very good. And that could change, but there's a strong chance it does not. Three years into his career, it appears the 2014 No. 3 overall pick has regressed despite plenty of support in that offense. 

    He ranked in the bottom five in football last season in terms of completion percentage (58.9), yards per attempt (6.25) and passer rating (78.8), and his numbers when throwing deep were sickening. 

    The good news is Bortles has been working with new Jags executive vice president Tom Coughlin, as well as quarterback guru Tom House, and Coughlin told NFL Network's Rich Eisen that the 25-year-old has basically corrected his mechanics.

    It's OK that they exercised his fifth-year option for 2018 because the money is not guaranteed right now unless he's injured. Still, by bringing him back as the starter with at least a symbolic extension, the Jags risk painting themselves into a corner if Bortles fails again. They have the talent to compete if they can get steadier play under center, and a second- or third-round pick might have had a chance to push Bortles or even take over if he were to fall on his face early in 2017. 

    The Jags are going all in on a bad quarterback, which is naturally risky. 


    Tennessee Titans: Gave $16 million guaranteed to cornerback Logan Ryan

    The Titans needed help at cornerback this offseason, and they had plenty of money to spend. It's hard not to overpay on the free-agent market, and when you do—even if you've got a silly amount of salary-cap space—you're taking a risk. 

    By giving Ryan a three-year, $30 million deal with $16 million guaranteed to become their No. 1 corner, the Titans are gambling that a guy who has spent much of his career as a second fiddle at that position can live up to playing a larger role with a much larger salary. 

    The 26-year-old is one of just 14 NFL corners making $10-plus million a year, despite never having been a No. 1 guy and despite coming off a contract year in which he gave up more yards per coverage snap than the NFL average.

AFC West

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    The Broncos' riskiest move was not getting somebody to compete with Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch.
    The Broncos' riskiest move was not getting somebody to compete with Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch.Associated Press

    Denver Broncos: Stuck with Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch at quarterback

    The Broncos won the Super Bowl despite posting the AFC's lowest team passer rating in 2015. And after losing Peyton Manning to retirement and Brock Osweiler to free agency, they gambled that lightning would strike twice by using Siemian—a second-year seventh-round pickunder center in 2016. 

    But lightning rarely strikes twice in the same spot. Siemian posted a sub-60 completion percentage while ranking 23rd among 30 qualified passers with an 84.6 rating. Meanwhile, Lynch—whom they drafted late in Round 1 in 2016didn't do anything in limited action to indicate he's ready to take the reins. 

    The Broncos, who had the league's best DVOA on defense last season, are in win-now mode. But teams almost never win these days without high-quality quarterbacks. Denver was an exception to that rule in 2015, but general manager John Elway has become too stubborn since.

    The Broncos should have made runs at Tony Romo and/or Jay Cutler before both veterans retired. But they failed to bring in either, and now they're once again left standing in the middle of an open field holding a long metal rod. Or something like that. 


    Kansas City Chiefs: Cut wide receiver Jeremy Maclin 

    Long term, essentially using two first-round picks on quarterback Patrick Mahomes is the ultimate risk. But because the Chiefs will probably slowly groom Mahomes anyway and are considered contenders, the bigger immediate risk might come with their decision to release Maclin deep into the offseason. 

    After all, the 2014 Pro Bowler is still on the right side of 30 and is only two years removed from back-to-back 85-plus-catch, 1,000-plus-yard, eight-plus-touchdown seasons. He struggled while dealing with injuries in 2016—in fact, Maclin told ESPN's Adam Schefter he was playing through a torn groin—but he's healthy now and could be in for a bounce-back season. 

    If that happens, it'll take place in Baltimore, where he signed soon after the Chiefs released him partly in order to save $10 million. And if that happens in Baltimore while less proven receivers Tyreek Hill, Chris Conley and Albert Wilson struggle in Kansas City, this risk will have backfired on the Chiefs. 


    Los Angeles Chargers: Gave a $53 million contract to offensive tackle Russell Okung

    The Chargers franchise took a massive risk when it decided to pack up its San Diego offices and move 120 miles north to Los Angeles. But sticking to football itself, general manager Tom Telesco rolled the dice on the first day of free agency when he made Russell Okung the second-highest-paid offensive lineman in the NFL with a four-year, $53 million deal.

    The Chargers were undoubtedly in need of a boost at the offensive tackle position, and Okung does have a Pro Bowl nod on his resume. But that was five years ago. Since then, he's missed 13 games because of injury in Seattle and then Denver, who released him after one failed season. 

    It's fair to wonder if he's almost out of gas as he approaches 30. 

    The move reeks of desperation, and it shows what some teams are willing to risk for seemingly talented offensive tackles, especially on the blind side. 


    Oakland Raiders: Didn't invest in a better backup for quarterback Derek Carr

    You got a feel for how much impact Raiders quarterback Derek Carr made in his breakout third season when he suffered a broken leg in Week 16.

    Between the moment that injury took place and the end of Oakland's season, the Raiders scored just 20 points in nearly nine quarters of football. Starting in place of Carr in Week 17, backup Matt McGloin was just 6-of-11 for 21 yards before being replaced by third-stringer Connor Cook. The Michigan State product then completed only 40 percent of 45 passes and averaged just 3.6 yards per attempt as Oakland's starter in an ugly wild-card loss to the Texans. 

    Cook remains one of Carr's backups. He's joined by EJ Manuel, who, at No. 16 overall in 2013, was drafted higher than both Carr and Cook but is probably getting his last shot after completing only 58.3 percent of his passes and posting a 77.5 passer rating during four disappointing seasons with the Bills. 

    Most teams are in trouble when they lose their starting quarterback. But the good ones can usually tread water for a few weeks. If Carr goes down at any point this year, it doesn't look like the Raiders have put themselves in a position to stay afloat. 

NFC East

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    Can top Redskins draft pick Jonathan Allen hold up physically?
    Can top Redskins draft pick Jonathan Allen hold up physically?Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Dallas Cowboys: Let quarterback Tony Romo retire

    There'll probably be a bounty on my head in North Texas for writing this, but there's a chance Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott's rookie season was somewhat of a fluke. It probably wasn't, though, because he wasn't just good, he had the highest completion percentage of any qualified rookie passer in NFL history. And he has plenty of support in that offense. But there's a chance. 

    And if Prescott suffers a sophomore slump when he encounters defenses that have spent the entire offseason preparing for him—if losing the element of surprise that worked to his advantage in 2016 costs him—the Cowboys could regret not biting the bullet and paying Romo big bucks to return as Prescott's backup. 

    Of course, it's possible Romo wasn't willing to accept said job. He's a hotshot at CBS Sports now, pairing with Jim Nantz as a lead NFL analyst, so it might have been trade-or-bust for owner Jerry Jones. But if the Cowboys could have kept him on the roster—even at an extra $14 million in 2017 salary-cap space—they wouldn't be taking such a risk with Kellen Moore, Zac Dysert and undrafted rookie Cooper Rush serving as Prescott's backups. 


    New York Giants: Kept Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart in the tackle spots

    Two years into his career, Flowers has been one of the worst starting offensive tackles in the league. And Hart struggled as a pass-blocker on the right side last season. Yet the Giants didn't sign or draft a single high-profile offensive tackle this offseason. 

    Every single offensive lineman in the draft except Garett Bolles was available when they were on the clock with the No. 23 overall pick, but instead of taking Ryan Ramczyk or Cam Robinson, they selected project tight end Evan Engram.

    They didn't draft an O-lineman until they took Adam Bisnowaty in Round 6 at No. 200 overall, and they ignored high-profile free agents Riley Reiff, Matt Kalil, Rick Wagner, Russell Okung, Andrew Whitworth and Mike Remmers before signing former Chargers bust D.J. Fluker (who is probably more of a guard and shouldn't start anywhere). 

    Protecting 36-year-old quarterback Eli Manning is critical, and by sticking with the status quo at the tackle positions, the Giants are exposing themselves to far too much risk. 


    Philadelphia Eagles: Didn't bring in a good veteran corner

    The key objective for the Eagles this offseason was to give second-year quarterback Carson Wentz more support, and they did that by bringing in two new wideouts—Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith—without breaking the bank on long-term contracts. They also addressed defensive needs with their top three picks in the draft, and they brought in potential No. 1 back LeGarrette Blount on a cheap deal after the draft.

    But Philadelphia's cornerbacks were terrible last year. Two of their top three cover guys, Nolan Carroll and Leodis McKelvin, are now gone. PFF graded the other one, Jalen Mills, as the worst qualified corner in the NFL. Bringing in first-round bust turned journeyman Patrick Robinson won't fix things, and rookie second-rounder Sidney Jones is recovering from an Achilles injury. 

    For now, it looks like Mills, Robinson and 2017 third-round pick Rasul Douglas will all play key roles. In a division with dudes like Odell Beckham Jr., Dez Bryant and Terrelle Pryor, that's quite the risk. 


    Washington Redskins: Drafted defensive lineman Jonathan Allen in Round 1

    Good moves can be risky. Risky moves can be good. The Redskins made a good move when they used the No. 17 overall pick in the draft on Allen, who came as a huge bargain in that spot after a dominant college career at Alabama. 

    In that spot, adding the reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year as a replacement for the departed Chris Baker was a no-brainer and a smart risk. But it was a risk nonetheless because there are plenty of concerns about his long-term health. Allen has arthritis in his shoulders, both of which have been surgically repaired. 

    If he gives the Redskins at least several strong seasons, he'll have been worth it. Otherwise, a good risk will backfire. 

NFC North

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    Will Mitchell Trubisky be worth the investment for the Bears?
    Will Mitchell Trubisky be worth the investment for the Bears?Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Chicago Bears: Traded up to draft quarterback Mitchell Trubisky second overall

    Remember what I said earlier about drafting quarterbacks in Round 1? And trading up to draft quarterbacks in Round 1? Always a risk, everyone. 

    Here's a list of quarterbacks chosen in the first round after trade-ups since 2009 (excluding 2017): Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman, Tim Tebow, Blaine Gabbert, Robert Griffin III, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz and Paxton Lynch.

    Good luck with that.


    Detroit Lions: Gave $19 million guaranteed to guard T.J. Lang

    The Lions upgraded when they replaced free-agent right guard Larry Warford with T.J. Lang, but that swap may not age well.

    Lang made the Pro Bowl last season, but he's about four years older than Warford. He's also played 119 games since 2009, and he's recovering from hip and foot injuries. How much tread is left on those tires? Regardless, the Lions gave him a deal worth $9.5 million a year and with $19 million guaranteed, while Warford signed with the New Orleans Saints for $8.5 million a year and $17 million guaranteed. 

    In a year or two, there's a good chance Warford will have become a pillar in New Orleans and Lang will have run out of gas in Detroit. So while there's a lot of potential upside here for the Lions, paying a premium for Lang instead of the younger Warford could backfire soon and will become increasingly likely to do so in the coming years. 


    Green Bay Packers: Put all their eggs at running back in Ty Montgomery's basket

    Montgomery had some nice moments as his role increased in the Green Bay backfield over the course of the 2016 season, but there's scant evidence that the converted wide receiver has the ability to deliver as an every-down back. 

    The 24-year-old has carried the ball 12-plus times in a game only once as an NFL player. He did pick up 162 yards on 16 attempts against the Bears in Week 15 last season, but he followed that up by averaging 3.9 yards per attempt in the final two games of the regular season and only 91 yards on 25 carries (for a 3.6 average) in the playoffs.

    He either shone or was nowhere to be seen, but it's concerning that he has lacked consistency and doesn't have much experience. He won't have the element of surprise anymore, so opposing defenses will know what to expect. 

    The Packers drafted three running backs, but they let Eddie Lacy walk to the Seattle Seahawks as a free agent. Also, they spent their first four picks on defensive players, and they released veteran backs Don Jackson and Christine Michael soon after the draft. 

    That leaves them with just Montgomery and a batch of rookies in the backfield. If he can't deliver and those rooks aren't ready to hatch, who'll be there?


    Minnesota Vikings: Declined quarterback Teddy Bridgewater's fifth-year option for 2018

    The Vikings made offensive tackle Riley Reiff one of the highest-paid OTs in the game despite the fact the good-not-great 28-year-old has never made a Pro Bowl. That seemed like the obvious No. 1 offseason risk in Minnesota—that is until Bridgewater started impressing in practice only weeks after the team declined to pick up his fifth-year option for 2018.

    Less than nine months after a serious knee injury jeopardized the Pro Bowl quarterback's career, Bridgewater took snaps and threw passes at several practice sessions in May and June. And Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer told ESPN.com's Ben Goessling in early June that the 24-year-old was "progressing as well as anybody could expect." He continued to throw to receivers as part of individual drills at minicamp, and one of them—2016 first-round pick Laquon Treadwell—came away particularly impressed.

    "He looks great—really great," Treadwell said, per Goessling. "It's like he was never hurt."

    That's certainly good news for the Vikings, but it also indicates there's a chance Bridgewater could get back on the field and re-establish himself as a franchise quarterback in 2017. And if that happens, Minnesota will either risk losing him or have to fork over a lot more cash than it would have had it picked up his option this spring. 

NFC South

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    Matt Kalil has a lot to live up to in Carolina.
    Matt Kalil has a lot to live up to in Carolina.Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

    Atlanta Falcons: Fired defensive coordinator Richard Smith 

    Rather smartly, the Falcons didn't do much after a surprise Super Bowl season.

    They lost offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who became head coach the San Francisco 49ers, but there wasn't anything they could do about that. They didn't lose any players who matter, and they got good value while addressing a need at defensive end with first-round pick Takkarist McKinley (No. 26 overall). Also, their only high-profile free-agent addition, two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Dontari Poe, signed for just $8 million on a one-year contract. 

    But they did fire Smith soon after their Super Bowl LI collapse, which was an interesting decision because that defense is young and talented and it showed signs of improvement as the 2016 season progressed.

    After surrendering an NFC-high 28.3 points per game and recording just 11 takeaways in their first 10 games, the Falcons gave up just 20.5 points per game between Week 11 and their NFC championship victory over Green Bay. And they had 17 takeaways in those eight affairs. 

    Smith was making progress, and he had an inexperienced group on the right track. But he was a scapegoat, and now the organization had better hope his dismissal doesn't hurt the unit he ran. 


    Carolina Panthers: Gave offensive tackle Matt Kalil $31 million guaranteed 

    You can't fault the Panthers for trying to give quarterback Cam Newton better blindside protection after opponents routinely roughed up the 2015 MVP last season, and Carolina hasn't seen steady results at left tackle since Jordan Gross retired after the 2013 campaign. 

    But the Panthers gave Kalil $31 million guaranteed on a five-year, $55.5 million contract, making him the sixth-highest-paid offensive tackle in football in terms of guaranteed money. They did so even though the soon-to-be 28-year-old was one of the worst starting offensive tackles in football between 2013 and 2015 before missing most of the 2016 campaign because of a hip injury. 

    The 2012 No. 4 overall pick hasn't played consistently well since his rookie season. Regardless, Kalil will make about the same average annual salary ($11.1 million) and over twice as much guaranteed money as new Los Angeles Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who is coming off back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons in Cincinnati. 

    The Panthers are gambling that Kalil can finally live up to expectations despite evidence indicating he's a bust. At that price, it's a tremendous risk. 


    New Orleans Saints: Traded wide receiver Brandin Cooks for a first-round pick

    If you're not rebuilding, it seems counterintuitive to trade a key offensive player who is entering his prime in exchange for draft picks. And as long as 38-year-old future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees remains on the roster, the Saints presumably are not rebuilding. 

    And yet they sent Cooks, 23, and a fourth-round pick to the Patriots in exchange for a first- and third-rounder.

    Though Brees has shown he can practically turn ballboys into a weapons, Cooks is coming off back-to-back 1,100-plus-yard seasons in which he combined for 17 touchdowns. It's hard to envision the players drafted with those picks—offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk and linebacker Trey Hendrickson—making a larger impact than Cooks in 2017.

    And while the Saints still have a strong receiving corps, they're rolling the dice that 2016 rookie sensation Michael Thomas won't encounter a sophomore slump and that free-agent addition Ted Ginn hasn't lost a step after a bit of a down year in Carolina at the age of 31. 


    Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Gave $20 million guaranteed to wide receiver DeSean Jackson

    Keep in mind that every team had a "riskiest move" this offseason, even if none were particularly risky. There is a lowest-ranked student at Harvard.

    So while I love the Jackson signing, the reality is there's always some risk associated with giving a three-year, $33.5 million deal with $20 million guaranteed to a burner on the wrong side of 30. The three-time Pro Bowler led the league with 17.9 yards per reception last season in Washington, but speed-reliant receivers have been known to fall off cliffs. 

    Jackson will likely help the Buccaneers offense improve in 2017, but there is a small chance the 30-year-old starts to decline in the near future. 

NFC West

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    Sean McVay becomes the youngest head coach in modern NFL history.
    Sean McVay becomes the youngest head coach in modern NFL history.Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Arizona Cardinals: Didn't invest in a potential quarterback of the future

    Carson Palmer has put together a nice career. But his rate-based statistics plummeted in 2016, and it's beginning to look as though the 37-year-old's 2015 Pro Bowl campaign was a late-career anomaly. After all, he threw 22 interceptions in 2013 and started just six games in 2014.

    But the Cards didn't use any of their seven draft picks on quarterbacks, leaving Drew Stanton, offseason addition Blaine Gabbert and undrafted rookie Trevor Knight as the only options beyond Palmer under center.

    If Palmer suffers another injury, the Cards are in trouble. If he continues to decline, they're in trouble. Had they drafted a potential heir apparent in the first or second round, they'd have a better chance at executing a smooth transition from the Palmer era to whatever's next, and they'd also have a stronger insurance policy in place.  


    Los Angeles Rams: Hired a millennial to be their new head coach

    The Constitution states that one must be 35 or older to become president of the United States. The NFL should adopt the same rule for head coaches.

    Maybe it's the dynamics that come with a coach being younger than some of his players, or maybe it's a lack of life and/or football experience. Regardless, dudes in their early 30s rarely succeed in NFL head coaching roles.

    It didn't work for a 31-year-old Lane Kiffin with the Raiders or a 32-year-old Raheem Morris with the Bucs. It didn't work for David Shula (32) in Cincinnati or Josh McDaniels (32) in Denver. 

    Sean McVay was still 30 when he took the Rams job in January. 

    Take it from a 30-year-old: Los Angeles is taking a chance. 


    San Francisco 49ers: Gave wide receiver Pierre Garcon a $47.5 million contract

    The Buccaneers weren't the only team to gamble this offseason on a former Redskins receiver coming off a 1,000-yard campaign on the north side of 30. The same week Jackson went to Tampa, Garcon signed the most lucrative free-agent wide receiver contract of the 2017 offseason in San Francisco. 

    Garcon will probably be the best receiver on the 49ers roster in 2017, and he's certainly better than all of the wideouts they had last year. He's somehow never been to a Pro Bowl, but he's gone over 1,000 yards in two of his last four seasons. And he hasn't missed a game since 2012. 

    But San Francisco is clearly rebuilding, which makes giving a five-year, $47.5 million contract with $20 million guaranteed to a guy who'll be 31 before he plays his first game in that uniform rather risky. Garcon is entering his 10th season. How much gas does he have left in the tank? How much will he have left in a couple of years?


    Seattle Seahawks: Continued to neglect the offensive line 

    Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is coming off the worst season of his career. It's no coincidence Wilson wasn't healthy for much of 2016 and that he was sacked more than any other quarterback in the conference (41 times).

    A lot of that has to do with the fact his offensive line was a mess. Per NFL.com, only three lines allowed more hits in 2016.

    Right tackle Garry Gilliam was terrible. Left tackle George Fant was worse. Left guard Mark Glowinski? Terrible. Right guard Germain Ifedi? Worse. But because the Seahawks stayed away from high-profile offensive linemen in free agency and the draft, several of those guys will likely be starting again in 2017.

    They signed 2013 No. 2 overall pick Luke Joeckel and 2013 fifth-round pick Oday Aboushi. But Joeckel is a bust coming off a major knee injury, and Aboushi is probably better suited as a reserve. 

    The Seahawks are gambling that Joeckel suddenly wakes up or Aboushi breaks out. And that Ifedi makes major strides in his sophomore season. They're hoping that Fant or Glowinski becomes something other than terrible or that rookie second-round pick Ethan Pocic earns a starting job right away.

    That's a lot of hoping and wishing, which is—say it with me—risky!

    Advanced stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus on Twitter unless otherwise noted.


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