Highlighting the 25 Best Moves of the NFL Offseason

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistMay 10, 2018

Highlighting the 25 Best Moves of the NFL Offseason

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    First, coaching jobs were filled. Then, players were released, signed, re-signed and tagged. Soon after that, 256 more were drafted, before hundreds more were signed as undrafted free agents. 

    Altogether, well over 1,000 moves were made during the first half of the 2018 NFL offseason. 

    It's mostly quiet now. A time to reflect. And judge, of course.  

    Here are 25 trades, signings, hirings and draft decisions from 20 different teams that will go down as the best moves of the 2018 offseason. 

Cleveland Browns Draft Baker Mayfield 1st Overall

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    There are no guarantees in the draft, even at the top. No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield could turn into Peyton Manning or JaMarcus Russell, Cam Newton or David Carr, John Elway or Tim Couch. Let's not pretend we know how his career will pan out. 

    But we can say the Cleveland Browns had the right approach by taking him.

    They had to finally swing the bat on a quarterback early after trading away picks that were ultimately used on Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson in the last two drafts, and in this case they went with one of the safer options among the top quarterback prospects. 

    The Browns could have selected a more physically intriguing quarterback in combine superstar Josh Allen, but Allen completed just 56.2 percent of his passes at Wy-freakin'-oming. And even USC product Sam Darnold will enter the league with questions about his tendency to turn the ball over. Meanwhile, the accurate Mayfield threw just 30 interceptions over the course of four years as a starter in the Big 12, including just six in his senior campaign. 

    Hindsight isn't on our side yet, but right now this move gets the benefit of the doubt for a team that rarely deserves it. 

Seattle Seahawks Draft Shaquem Griffin in the 5th Round

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    With Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril gone and Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor both facing uncertain futures, the Seattle Seahawks are going through somewhat of a rebuild on the defensive side of the ball. But with the 141st pick of the 2018 draft, they landed a potential long-term puzzle piece at linebacker. 

    Fifth-round UCF product Shaquem Griffin is a passionate, driven locker room leader coming off a two-year run as a college starter in which he recorded 33.5 tackles for loss, 18.5 sacks, a pair of interceptions and 166 tackles. He was his conference's Defensive Player of the Year in 2016 and a second-team All-American in 2017, and he followed that up by dominating his position with a 4.38-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. 

    Griffin—who is already garnering praise for his work in organized team activities—has a star-level ceiling, which is great news for Seahawks fans considering that he cost the team only a Day 3 pick. 

    One day, he might even make such a large impact that most of us will forget that he's doing so with one hand. 

Carolina Panthers Re-Sign Julius Peppers to a 1-Year, $5 Million Deal

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    Despite starting only five games and being on the field for only 50.1 percent of the Carolina Panthers' defensive snaps, defensive end Julius Peppers was one of just 17 players to record more than 10 sacks in 2017. 

    In fact, the consistent and seemingly ageless future Hall of Famer has picked up at least seven sacks in each of his last 10 seasons. He has plenty of gas left in his tank at age 38, especially since he's used only in a situational role at this point. 

    But it's clear Peppers—who, according to Spotrac, has made nearly $160 million in his career—is cool with finishing his career in Carolina on the cheap, because he's worth a hell of a lot more than $5 million. Thanks to that hometown discount, 21 other 4-3 defensive ends will cost their teams more than Peppers will charge the Panthers in 2018.  

Oakland Raiders Sign Rashaan Melvin to a 1-Year, $5.5 Million Deal

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    The Oakland Raiders have attracted a lot of criticism in the first offseason of the Jon Gruden redux, but one thing they did get right was signing starting-caliber cornerback Rashaan Melvin to a one-year prove-it deal worth just $5.5 million. 

    The 28-year-old journeyman is coming off a breakout 2017 season in which he recorded three interceptions and 13 passes defensed in just 10 games as the Indianapolis Colts' top-performing cover man. He surrendered an opposing passer rating of just 60.3, which, according to Pro Football Focus, was the 10th-lowest qualified mark in the league. 

    Was that an anomaly? It's possible, but the defensively challenged Raiders are probably more than happy to risk $5.5 million to find out. 

San Francisco 49ers Sign Richard Sherman to a 3-Year, $27.2 Million Deal

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    As one of the youngest teams in the NFL, the San Francisco 49ers probably knew entering this offseason that they could use a leader who has been there, done that. That's what they found in veteran cornerback Sherman, who signed a three-year, $27.2 million deal in San Francisco after he was released as a cap casualty in Seattle. 

    Sherman is on the wrong side of 30 and recovering from a ruptured Achilles, but the incentive-laden contract he personally negotiated with the 49ers puts the team on the hook for only $7 million in guaranteed money (which includes his base salary for the season). 

    That's a team friendly deal for a player who is only a year removed from a four-interception Pro Bowl season. 

New England Patriots Sign Adrian Clayborn to a 2-Year, $10 Million Deal

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    The New England Patriots haven't experienced a smooth-sailing offseason, but beyond controversy regarding Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski and a tough March during which they lost key players Nate Solder, Malcolm Butler, Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis, New England signed a potentially high-impact pass-rusher at what appears to be a discounted rate. 

    Veteran defensive end Adrian Clayborn is coming off a career year in which he put up 9.5 sacks while forcing two fumbles despite starting just two games and playing only 52.9 percent of the Atlanta Falcons' defensive snaps. Clayborn was a first-round pick seven years ago, and he's still only 29 years old.

    "Clayborn ended the 2017 campaign with 54 total quarterback pressures and a pass-rush productivity of 10.9, which were good for 16th and 10th, respectively, among 68 4-3 defensive ends with at least 135 pass-rushing snaps," Chichester wrote

    You gotta wonder if the Pats see something special in him, which is why it's amazing that he'll only cost them $10 million over the next two seasons. 

Minnesota Vikings Sign Sheldon Richardson to a 1-Year, $8 Million Deal

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    After falling short of the Super Bowl in 2017, the Minnesota Vikings added one piece on each side of the ball that could help put them over the top. And while they paid a massive premium for quarterback Kirk Cousins on offense, they acquired a potential game-changer on defense for just $8 million with no strings attached beyond the 2018 season. 

    Sheldon Richardson isn't the type of player who will consistently put up big individual numbers, but his impact is glaring on tape. 

    Pro Football Focus does its best to contextualize that impact using advanced stats, with Mark Chichester noting: "Richardson was a force in both the run game and in the pass-rush last year and through 17 weeks of the 2017 season, he racked up 36 total quarterback pressures and 22 run stops, which ranked ninth and 17th among defensive tackles this year, respectively.

    "Together, his 61 total impact plays were good for the seventh-most among interior defenders."

    Likely motivated once again in a contract year, Richardson could do big things for a defense that already ranked No. 1 in football in points and yards allowed in 2017. 

Houston Texans Sign Tyrann Mathieu to a 1-Year, $7 Million Deal

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    Speaking of deals with no long-term repercussions that incentivize former Pro Bowlers to perform to the best of their abilities, the Houston Texans landed versatile 25-year-old defensive back Tyrann Mathieu for just $7 million on a one-year deal. 

    Mathieu will have to prove that he can stay healthy and bounce back from an off year, and it's easy to understand why the Cardinals decided to get out of his expensive contract. But the Texans have little to lose here—and a lot to gain. 

    After all, the Honey Badger is just two years removed from a five-interception season in which he recorded 17 passes defensed and was named a first-team All-Pro. He can cover the slot or play either safety position, and he should have a chance to play multiple roles in a Houston secondary that needs him. 

Los Angeles Chargers Draft Derwin James 17th Overall

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    Sometimes, you just have to be in the right place at the right time. And when you're in that place at that time, you have to avoid overthinking. That's what gets the Los Angeles Chargers on this list. 

    The Chargers entered the draft in need of another high-potential defender to complement pass-rushing forces Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, preferably at safety, linebacker or defensive tackle. And in a perfect world, a team fighting to capture the hearts of Los Angeles football fans by contending while quarterback Philip Rivers remains effective would also land a rookie who is ready to contribute right away. 

    When the Chargers were on the clock with the 17th pick of the draft, the world was indeed perfect. That's because versatile, NFL-ready safety Derwin James had dropped all the way to that spot, despite the fact most mock drafts had him going in the top 12. 

    James has the ability to play a variety of roles in that secondary immediately, and he has superstar potential. Few teams get that lucky in the No. 17 spot, and the Chargers deserve kudos for keeping it simple when James dropped to them. 

Los Angeles Rams Acquire Aqib Talib

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    However, the Chargers' future Los Angeles landlord still made several much larger splashes this offseason, starting with a pair of March trades for veteran cornerbacks who should bring plenty of experience and playmaking ability to a young, blossoming roster. 

    One of those moves fetched them 32-year-old Pro Bowler Aqib Talib in exchange for merely a fifth-round pick. The Denver Broncos were probably happy to get Talib off the books, but the Rams are clearly in win-now mode and feel they can afford to pay him the $19 million he's owed over the final two years of his deal. 

    That's not cheap, but it's a lot less than the New York Jets are paying departed Rams top corner Trumaine Johnson. And beyond the money, they gave up practically nothing in exchange for a defender who has scored six touchdowns in the last four years.

Los Angeles Rams Acquire Marcus Peters

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    Prior to bringing in Talib, the Rams also pulled the trigger on a trade for Kansas City Chiefs interception-machine Marcus Peters. And although Peters is entering the final year of his rookie contract, this is an even better move because he's only 25 years old and will cost Los Angeles just $1.7 million in 2018.

    Since entering the league as a first-round pick in 2015, Peters has 19 picks. No other NFL player has more than 14 during that span. 

    Peters has encountered some controversy, which might help explain why the Rams were able to acquire him and a sixth-round pick from Kansas City in exchange for a 2019 second-round pick and a 2018 fourth-round selection. But this remains a low-risk move with a huge potential reward, especially with his fifth-year option for 2019 guaranteed only for injury.  

Chicago Bears Sign Allen Robinson to a 3-Year, $42 Million Deal

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    Allen Robinson didn't come cheap for the Chicago Bears, but the team had plenty of salary-cap space entering free agency and was in desperate need of weapons for second-year franchise-quarterback-in-the-making Mitchell Trubisky. 

    With that in mind, it made sense to pay up for a talented young receiver like Robinson, who is coming off a torn ACL but is a year removed from a two-season stretch in which he caught 153 passes for 2,283 yards and 20 touchdowns. 

    That was in the Jacksonville Jaguars offense, pre-Leonard Fournette and before Blake Bortles was half-decent. 

    With Trubisky, fellow newbie pass-catchers Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton, a top-notch running game and a solid offensive line, the 24-year-old 2014 second-round pick should explode if healthy in 2018. 

    Worst-case scenario, the Bears can get out of that deal with just $28.1 million down the drain in two years.

Green Bay Packers Sign Jimmy Graham to a 3-Year, $30 Million Deal

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    But Trubisky wasn't the only NFC North quarterback in need of more weaponry this offseason. It appears the Green Bay Packers were aware that Aaron Rodgers needed more support, which explains why they signed veteran tight end Jimmy Graham in free agency. 

    Like Robinson, Graham didn't come cheap. But it was refreshing to see the Packers spend some money on the open market, especially on a player who should immediately help them score points. The 31-year-old might not be good for 1,000 yards like he was earlier in his career, but Graham still earned a second consecutive Pro Bowl nod while catching a league-high 10 touchdown passes in the red zone last season in Seattle. 

    If he hits a wall, only $11 million of Graham's three-year, $30 million contract is guaranteed. But there's a better chance the highest-rated passer in NFL history finds a groove with one of the toughest players in football to defend. 

New Orleans Saints Sign Patrick Robinson to a 4-Year, $20 Million Deal

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    Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley emerged as strong cornerbacks outside for the Saints in 2017, but New Orleans entered the offseason with room for a boost in the slot.

    Somehow, the Saints signed one of the top slot corners in the NFL for just $5 million per season on a four-year deal.

    The Philadelphia Eagles might not have won Super Bowl LII if not for Patrick Robinson, who had four interceptions and 18 passes defensed in the regular season and added a pivotal pick-six in the playoffs. According to Pro Football Focus, he ranked fourth in the league with an opposing passer rating of just 61.8 in the slot and second with an opposing completion percentage of 54.5 when targeted there. 

    And now he's back with the Saints on a deal that makes him just the 34th-highest-paid cornerback in football. 

Pittsburgh Steelers Draft Mason Rudolph in the 3rd Round

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    Ben Roethlisberger's least favorite move of the offseason was actually one of the best draft decisions of the year.

    Quarterback is the most important position in the game, and the Pittsburgh Steelers know they can't be caught without a succession plan under center. Oklahoma State product Mason Rudolph gives them a quality option out of Round 3, and he presented great value in that No. 76 spot. 

    Big Ben doesn't appear as though he likes the pick, but the reality is he's 36 years old, he hasn't made it through a full season since 2014, and he has speculated publicly about his retirement multiple times in recent years. 

    It would have been irresponsible for the Steelers to continue to operate without a high-upside young signal-caller on the roster, and the big, accurate and reliable Rudolph has the ability to become a franchise quarterback.

    While Roethlisberger justified his frustration by suggesting that the Steelers could have instead used that pick on a player who could "help this team now," the reality is few third-round picks become great NFL players, and the Steelers had two third-rounders at their disposal. Plus, as James Boyer noted at Behind the Steel Curtain, Rudolph's mere presence could motivate Roethlisberger

    In the last 25 years, only three players selected in that No. 76 spot have become Pro Bowlers (Ahman Green, Brandon Brooks and Keenan Allen), and only about a half-dozen of those 25 became consistently successful starters.

    This was worth the risk. 

Cleveland Browns Acquire Jarvis Landry

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    The Cleveland Browns have recently become serious about adding established NFL players to their roster, which indicates that even the slow-moving Cleveland front office is ready to try to win games rather than simply accumulate draft picks. 

    And the move that best signifies that is the team's March trade for Jarvis Landry, who after catching an NFL-record 400 passes in his first four seasons with the Miami Dolphins should become the ultimate safety valve in a young but talented Browns offense. 

    The 25-year-old is coming off a 112-catch, nine-touchdown season and is worth a lot more than the fourth- and seventh-round selections Cleveland sent Miami's way. 

    Landry is expensive even after ditching the franchise tag in exchange for a long-term deal, but after saving for a rainy day for a half-decade the Browns have money to burn. Landry's contract won't cost them the ability to make big financial splashes in the years to come, and it's highly unlikely a team that has picked 25 players in the first three rounds of the last five drafts will regret giving up those two Day 3 selections in the trade.

Indianapolis Colts Hire Frank Reich as New Head Coach

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    He might not have been the Colts' first choice, but don't be surprised if the Colts eventually thank the football gods that they were spurned by Josh McDaniels in the eleventh hour of their search for a new head coach. 

    McDaniels falls from a Bill Belichick coaching tree that has produced several bad apples, while Reich comes to town fresh off a two-year stretch with the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. While there, the "quarterback whisperer" helped turn raw North Dakota State product Carson Wentz into an MVP candidate in less than 18 months. And then when he lost Wentz, his offense didn't miss a beat with Nick Foles en route to Super Bowl LII. 

    That's the guy you want working with Andrew Luck

    Reich brings a new mentality to an environment that seemed to have become stale and gloomy. You're allowed to be an excited Colts fan again. 

Buffalo Bills Trade Cordy Glenn to Move Up 9 Spots in Round 1

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    The Buffalo Bills believe they've found their future franchise quarterback in Josh Allen, but it took a lot of maneuvering for them to position themselves to draft him. Buffalo traded up five spots on draft night, but the No. 12 selection that went the other way in a deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers originally belonged to the Cincinnati Bengals. 

    The real boon of the Bills' offseason took place when they traded veteran offensive tackle Cordy Glenn and the No. 21 pick to the Bengals in exchange for the No. 12 pick. If that doesn't happen, they likely don't land Allen. It was a no-brainer deal for Buffalo, who no longer had much use for the oft-injured Glenn after 2017 second-round pick Dion Dawkins emerged in the left tackle spot as a rookie. 

    By trading a player who had lost most of his value to them, the Bills saved nearly $5 million in cap space and greatly increased their odds of landing their first franchise quarterback in over a decade. 

    Bravo, general manager Brandon Beane. 

Denver Broncos Draft Bradley Chubb 5th Overall

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    Edge-rusher Bradley Chubb was the surest thing on the defensive side of the ball in this draft.

    He has the athleticism, technical prowess and experience to dominate immediately at the NFL level, and the Denver Broncos needed a player exactly like that to lighten Von Miller's load. 

    In the No. 5 spot of the draft, that's an utter steal. 

Indianapolis Colts Draft Quenton Nelson 6th Overall

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    Guard Quenton Nelson was the surest thing on the offensive side of the ball in this year's draft.

    He has the size, strength and experience to dominate immediately at the NFL level, and the Colts needed a player just like him as they try to get back on track by supporting Luck as best they can. 

    In the No. 6 spot of the draft, that's an utter steal. 

Arizona Cardinals Trade Up to Draft Josh Rosen 10th Overall

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    Prior to the draft, it looked as though the Arizona Cardinals could be the odd franchise out among quarterback-hungry teams looking to get in on either Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen or Josh Rosen.

    But when Rosen slid to the No. 10 spot, the Cardinals parted with their third- and fifth-round picks (226 points) to move up five slots (250 points) to take Rosen ahead of the Miami Dolphins. 

    It's possible Miami wasn't going to draft Rosen, so he might have dropped to the No. 15 spot. But the Cards weren't willing to take that risk, and they paid a fair price to move up. 

    Now, a team that still has the talent to compete but is employing a veteran starting quarterback with chronic knee issues could have its future franchise quarterback in place. And it might not take long for Rosen to make a major impact in Arizona, because the polished three-year UCLA starter is the most NFL-ready signal-caller in this class. 

Los Angeles Rams Sign Ndamukong Suh to a 1-Year, $14 Million Deal

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    Richard Vogel/Associated Press

    It's fair to wonder whether the Rams have dug themselves a salary-cap hole beyond 2018, but the contract they gave five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has nothing to do with that.

    The Rams brought in one of the most dominant defensive players in the game and created a matchup nightmare for opposing offenseshow in the world do you block both Suh and Aaron Donald?without sacrificing a penny of salary-cap space beyond this season. 

    He doesn't come cheap, but according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Suh "took less" to go to the Rams. Besides, the expensive part of free agency had come and gone by the time the Rams signed Suh.

    This was a no-brainer deal with no long-term strings attached. 

Tennessee Titans Hire Mike Vrabel as New Head Coach

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    The reloading Tennessee Titans have long been trying to take the next step to become a bona fide contender. Even though they won their first playoff game in well over a decade this past season, it felt as though they hit a wall with bland head coach Mike Mularkey. 

    The Titans deserve kudos for moving on from Mularkey after a second consecutive nine-win season, and for hiring a replacement who is certain to bring a fresh feel and new energy to a young, impressionable team. 

    Mike Vrabel has been roundly praised for his leadership qualities, and it doesn't hurt that he spent the majority of his career watching Bill Belichick do his thing. 

    "During his Patriots career, there was no player more respected for his football intellect and revered for his leadership by his teammates than Mike," Patriots chairman Robert Kraft said in a statement following Vrabel's retirement in 2011, according to Greg Bedard of the Boston Globe. "He was elected a team captain by his peers and is a player who I think everyone knew was destined to become a coach after his NFL playing career was over.

    "Mike Vrabel is as well-suited for coaching as any player I have ever coached," Belichick added at the time, per Bedard. "He has a tremendous feel for people, players, coaches and what his team needs regardless of the situation. He is outstanding in his knowledge of the game, which contributed to his excellence as a player. I have no doubt Mike will develop tough, intelligent, fundamentally sound winners."

    That'll do.

Green Bay Packers Trade Down in Round 1 for a 2019 1st-Round Pick

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    Mike Roemer/Associated Press

    When the Packers were on the clock at No. 14 in the 2018 draft, the Saints made them an offer they couldn't refuse. 

    New Orleans sent Green Bay a fifth-round selection as well as a first-round pick in next year's draft to swap the 27th pick for the 14th pick. 

    The Packers flipped a pick worth 1,100 points on the Pro Football Reference draft trade value chart for a pick worth 680 points, another pick worth 33 points and a 2019 pick which will be worth a minimum of 590 points (if the Saints win the Super Bowl and pick 32nd). That's a 203-point steal in the worst-case scenario. 

    Less than an hour later, Green Bay made another deal that was virtually even on the trade value chart to move up to draft cornerback Jaire Alexander at No. 18, but few would have criticized them for taking him with their original No. 14 overall selection. They practically stole a first-round pick without sacrificing much if anything in this year's draft. 

    Quite the start for new general manager Brian Gutekunst.

Kansas City Chiefs Trade Alex Smith for Kendall Fuller and a 3rd-Round Pick

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    The Kansas City Chiefs were bound to ask Alex Smith to pass the quarterback torch to Patrick Mahomes in the near future. You don't sacrifice two first-round picks for a guy and keep him on the sideline for long. 

    Thus, it was a coup when the Chiefs traded Smith to the Washington Redskins for promising young cornerback Kendall Fullerwho had four interceptions and an opposing passer rating of just 55.0 last season, according to Pro Football Focusas well as a third-round pick, which they used to trade up to add defensive end Breeland Speaks in Round 2.

    Mahomes is a strong candidate to become a franchise quarterback, and he has a much higher ceiling as well as a much lower salary than Smith. The Kansas City defense is now in better shape, too.