The Biggest Winners and Losers of the NFL Offseason Before the Draft
The months between the end of the Super Bowl and the NFL draft are a flurry of activity—activity that can drastically alter the fortunes of a team.
There are college all-star games to attend, the NFL Scouting Combine in February. Pro days galore and private visits with prospects in the weeks after Indy.
That's hardly all that's going on, though. There are contract extensions to be signed. Franchise tags to be applied. Free agents to be pursued (and hopefully) acquired.
It's all intertwined. The free agents a team brings in can affect who it targets in the draft. If a club believes it will target a certain position early on draft day, that can impact which free agents it makes a run at.
It's one big ball of brouhaha.
That ball's been nicer to some players and teams than others this year. Some teams cleaned up in free agency. Some incoming rookies wish they could get a mulligan on the evaluation process. Others are sitting pretty as April 26 approaches.
With the NFL draft just around the corner, here's a look at the biggest winners and losers of the past few months.
WINNER: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
There hasn't been a more scrutinized spot in the 2018 NFL draft than the first one. Millions of words have been written regarding whom the Cleveland Browns will make the No. 1 overall pick.
For most of the last month or so, the general consensus among the draft community was that USC quarterback Sam Darnold was the front-runner to be the guy. However, those winds appear to be shifting.
As Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com reported, of late there's been an uptick in buzz that Wyoming's Josh Allen, the 6'5", 233-pounder with the cannon for a right arm, is highest on the Browns' target list.
Per Cabot, Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network said he's heard from numerous sources that Browns general manager John Dorsey covets Allen's tremendous upside.
"Just in talking to people around the league for the last, I would say it really picked up in the last week, it's just a lot of people, not from inside the [Browns'] building—I'll stress that—but there's just a lot of people telling me, 'Hey, I think it's going to be Josh Allen,'" he said. "It's either guys that have worked with John Dorsey or guys that are familiar with that room and that process."
For what it's worth, the honor of being selected first overall carries with it more than just cachet. Per the rookie salary estimates at Spotrac, the No. 1 pick will make about $1.5 million more over the life of his rookie contract than the No. 2 pick and $2.5 million more than the third overall pick.
As it turns out, those 60-yard lasers Allen uncorked at the combine and his pro day may have been rather valuable.
LOSER: Cleveland Browns
New Cleveland Browns general manager John Dorsey entered this offseason with more cap space and draft capital than any team in the NFL. That's good, because the Browns also had the most holes to fill.
The blueprint appeared pretty clear. Fill some holes in free agency, and then add a franchise quarterback with the first overall pick in the 2018 draft. From there, things open up. Dorsey could take another impact player (Bradley Chubb or Saquon Barkley) at No. 4 or trade back and stockpile high draft picks.
Things started relatively well. Dorsey added a "bridge" quarterback in Tyrod Taylor and a proven receiver in Jarvis Landry with a pair of trades. Dorsey didn't really make any "splash" free-agent signings, but he also didn't break the bank on any single contract.
Of late though, Dorsey appears to be catching Cleveland.
First came the aforementioned reports that Dorsey's leaning toward using that first pick to draft a quarterback who completed 56.3 percent of his passes last year. Allen had one touchdown pass and eight interceptions in three appearances against Power Five schools in college.
Inaccurate college quarterbacks do not magically become accurate professional passers. You either are, or you aren't.
Hot on the heels of those reports came news, via Will Brinson of CBSSports.com, that Dorsey signed Landry to a five-year, $75.5 million extension that includes $47 million in guarantees—a blockbuster boondoggle for a slot receiver who didn't even average nine yards a catch in 2017.
If Dorsey does follow through on the Allen pick, it will prove one of life's most depressing truisms.
Browns gotta Brown.
WINNER: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
For much of the predraft process, it appeared Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson would make an appearance on the other side of this list.
The 2016 Heisman Trophy winner turned heads in Indianapolis when he passed on running the 40 at the scouting combine. Jackson turned a few more when he did the same at Louisville's pro day.
There were also rumblings that NFL teams were having some difficuly arranging meetings with Jackson, who is navigating his predraft journey without the advice and assistance of an agent.
Now, with less than two weeks to go before the draft gets underway in Arlington, Texas, it appears that those turned heads and raised eyebrows have amounted to a massive pile of absolutely nothing.
It might just be that NFL teams are already well aware of how fast Jackson is after watching him outrun defenders on film. Yes, Jackson's far from a finished product throwing the football. But the arm strength is there—as is the sort of raw athleticism you just don't see every day in quarterbacks.
Or defensive backs. Or tailbacks.
As things stand right now, many believe there's next to no chance that Jackson's still on the board when the second day of festivities gets going on April 27. Per Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman, the New England Patriots (who own picks No. 23 and 31) are the most interested in Jackson of any team in the NFL.
If landing in Beantown isn't winning, then what is?
LOSER: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, New York Jets
You can't fault Teddy Bridgewater if he's a little bitter.
His NFL career has been one kick in the shins after another.
First, there was the lead-up to the 2014 NFL draft and the fuss about Bridgewater's small hands that caused the former Louisville star to nearly fall out of the first round.
By the end of Bridgewater's second season, he had guided the Minnesota Vikings to the playoffs and the brink of upsetting the Seattle Seahawks, who'd appeared in the previous two Super Bowls. Then, Blair Walsh hooked a short kick, and the dream died.
The real nightmare came the next summer—a horrifying knee injury that almost cost Bridgewater a lot more than his playing career.
Bridgewater hasn't played more than a few snaps of meaningful football since, and after the Vikings threw all the money ever at Kirk Cousins, it was clear Bridgewater was no longer in Minnesota's plans.
Bridgewater moved on in the offseason, signing with the New York Jets just a few days after Gang Green brought back 2017 starter Josh McCown.
McCown played well when healthy last year, but the 38-year-old has never played in all 16 games in a season. It wasn't unreasonable to think Bridgewater would get a chance to play at some point.
Now, however, with the Jets moving up to No. 3 in the 2018 draft, that pick is almost certainly going to be a quarterback. A quarterback whom fans are going to want to see sooner rather than later. Bridgewater now faces an uphill struggle just to be a backup.
And his shins have got to be sore.
WINNER: Los Angeles Rams
The Los Angeles Rams aren't going to be major players in the 2018 NFL draft. The team has eight picks, but only one is in the top 100.
Rams general manager Les Snead is no doubt fine with that after the offseason he's had, as Los Angeles was aggressive in adding impact players to the team in other ways.
Back in February, the Rams agreed to send a fourth-rounder in 2018 and a second-rounder in 2019 to the Kansas City Chiefs in return for ball-hawking cornerback Marcus Peters. No player in the league has more interceptions over the past three years than Peters, who has 19.
Early in March, the Rams shipped a fifth-round pick to the Denver Broncos in exchange for veteran cornerback Aqib Talib, a five-time Pro Bowler.
Then in April, the Rams sent the 23rd overall pick in this year's draft to the New England Patriots for wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who topped 1,000 receiving yards in each of the last three seasons with the Patriots and New Orleans Saints.
Snead and the Rams also swooped in and snatched up Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh after he was released by the Miami Dolphins, inking Suh to a one-year, $14 million contract.
There were personnel losses too (the Rams traded away linebacker Alec Ogletree and edge-rusher Robert Quinn), but on paper, at least, an already formidable team improved substantially.
LOSER: Orlando Brown, Oklahoma
At this point it feels like piling on the poor kid to rehash the catastrophe that was Orlando Brown's appearance at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine.
But there is no way to properly do a list of offseason winners and losers and not include him.
Leading into February's festivities in Indianapolis, Brown was widely considered a first-round prospect. Some thought the 6'8", 345-pound mauler was the No. 1 tackle in the class of 2018.
A lot fewer believe that now.
It wasn't just that Brown faltered a little at the combine. He fell apart. As Bleacher Report's Doug Farrar wrote at the time, Brown finished last among offensive linemen in the bench press (14 reps), broad jump (82") and vertical jump (19.5").
Brown also ran a pitiful 5.85-second 40-yard dash. And while most NFL teams aren't overly concerned about how quickly an offensive lineman can get 40 yards downfield, Brown's 10-yard spilt of two seconds was just as sluggish.
Yes, Brown was able to better some of those numbers at Oklahoma's pro day, if only because they couldn't get any worse.
But after a display that led Farrar to ask, "Did Orlando Brown Just Have the Worst Combine Performance of All Time?" any chance Brown had of hearing his name called on April 26 is probably gonesville.
WINNER: Minnesota Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings' 2017 season ended in heartbreak—a devastating 38-7 loss in the NFC Championship Game to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Kudos to the Vikings for using that blowout loss as motivation.
Mind you, it's not that the Vikings have made a ton of moves this offseason. But what Minnesota has lacked in quantity the team has made up for with quality.
You can debate whether Kirk Cousins is worth a fully guaranteed three-year, $84 million contract that makes him the NFL's highest-paid player in terms of average annual salary. But what can't be debated is that for all his flaws, Cousins played at a relatively high level. Given the weapons around him, Cousins should do so again in 2018.
The addition of defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson didn't generate the headlines of the Cousins signing. But getting Richardson on a one-year, $8 million deal was nothing short of a master stroke.
The Vikings will head into 2018 with a defensive line that features Richardson and Linval Joseph at the tackle spots and Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen at end. Minnesota already boasted the league's best defense in 2017.
That defense should be significantly better this year.
A lot will be said and written about Cousins, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz this year. But it may be the defensive arms race that exploded in the NFC this spring that will determine who represents the conference in Super Bowl LIII.
LOSER: Oakland Raiders
The announcement that Jon Gruden was returning as the head coach of the Oakland Raiders (on a massive 10-year, $100 million contract) sent a surge of excitement through the fanbase.
That excitement is now tinged with a bit of trepidation—because Gruden's Raiders have made a few puzzling moves.
The first involved a curious swap at wide receiver. The Raiders released veteran wideout Michael Crabtree (ostensibly in a cap-cutting move) only to turn around shortly after and pay almost an identical sum for Jordy Nelson.
Granted, Nelson was once one of the best wide receivers in football. But he'll be 33 in May and is coming off his worst season (53/482/6) since 2010.
The problem is that the last of those came in 2015, and Martin hasn't averaged even three yards a carry since.
Punter Marquette King (a second-team All-Pro in 2016) was released because of a reported personality clash with the coach. Virtually nothing has been done to address a defense that ranked 23rd in the league in 2017.
After last year's step backward (going from 12-4 in 2016 to 6-10), Gruden has not gotten things headed back in the right direction yet.
WINNER: DaeSean Hamilton, WR, Penn State
There haven't been many players who took better advantage of the predraft process than Penn State wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton.
Hamilton's climb up draft boards began all the way back at January's East-West Shrine Game, where he impressed both on the field and in interviews. The good times kept right on rolling at the Senior Bowl, where Hamilton showed good route-running skills and the ability to both get open and finish the deal by making the catch.
Per Mark Wogenrich of the Allentown Morning Call, NFL Network Analyst Mike Mayock said Hamilton helped himself as much as any player in the country at the all-star games.
"In a 14-day period, with the East-West Game and the Senior Bowl, he helped himself as much as anybody in the country," Mayock said. "I thought he got better every day, which says a lot, and coaches love that."
Hamilton chose not to run the 40 at the combine, but the 6'1", 205-pounder told Wogenrich he did everything he could to impress scouts in interviews and drills.
"I don’t like to leave any stone unturned," Hamilton said. "I make sure all my T’s are crossed and my I’s are dotted. I just want to make sure I’m detailed in my craft, that I’m perfecting all the things I have as strengths and turning my weaknesses into strengths."
The 4.47-second 40-yard dash Hamilton reeled off at Penn State's pro day was the icing on top of an ascension that has planted Hamilton squarely in the Day 2 conversation in this year's draft.
LOSER: Seattle Seahawks
It wasn't that long ago that the Seattle Seahawks were perhaps the best team in the NFL. Were it not for one ill-advised throw in Super Bowl XLIX, the Seahawks would have been back-to-back world champions.
Now, it appears that the Seahawks' run as the big bad wolf of the NFC West is over.
Last year, for the first time since Russell Wilson took the reins as Seattle's quarterback, the Seahawks failed to make the playoffs. And since the season ended, an already-leaking ship has sprung several more holes.
The team's best defensive lineman (Michael Bennett) is gone—traded to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Seattle's top cornerback (Richard Sherman) is also gone. Not only was Sherman released, but salt was rubbed in the wound as well when Sherman signed a team friendly deal to join the division rival San Francisco 49ers.
Never mind that both defensive end Cliff Avril and safety Kam Chancellor are attempting to return from neck injuries that have placed their playing futures in real jeopardy.
The "Legion of Boom" is in tatters.
There are offensive issues as well. Wide receiver Paul Richardson, who was second on the team with 703 receiving yards in 2017, left in free agency. So did tight end Jimmy Graham, who led the Seahawks with 10 receiving touchdowns. A porous offensive line and anemic run game are no better off then they were in December.
There are just too many holes. Not enough patches. And the Rams and 49ers both appear to have improved in a big way.
Seattle's run is over. The Seahawks are sinking.