Every NFL Team's Riskiest Move This Offseason
NFL teams generate offseason hope through coaching hires, draft picks and free-agent signings. For the most part, we find the ways those moves can improve each roster, but each decision comes with risk.
While some choose to remain optimistic about their team's direction—as at times, it's necessary to take a calculated chance—it's a healthy practice to notice potential pitfalls.
In what way did each team roll the dice on an offseason decision? We'll highlight the riskiest moves with details on the potential drawbacks or payoffs.
Arizona Cardinals: Releasing Safety Tyrann Mathieu
It's never easy to part ways with an All-Pro. Defensive back Tyrann Mathieu accomplished the feat in 2015, but general manager Steve Keim made an economical decision before the Pro Bowler's contract triggered millions in earnings.
ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss wrote of the situation March 14: "Mathieu was cut just hours before $5.75 million of his 2018 salary and $8 million of his 2019 salary were to be guaranteed Wednesday afternoon, the first day of the league year. Mathieu was also due a $5 million roster bonus on March 16."
In addition to the potential millions heading Mathieu's way, safety Budda Baker put together a solid rookie campaign on defense and earned Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors as a special teamer.
There's risk in letting go of a versatile defensive back who can cover, hit and tackle. However, the Cardinals hope Baker's development takes a fast track under defensive-minded head coach Steve Wilks, who's in his first year with the team. The Washington product may have the ability to fill the same roles as Mathieu at a much cheaper price.
Atlanta Falcons: Signing Brandon Fusco to Start at Right Guard
Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff didn't take huge risks this offseason. Relative to the highest-paid guards in the market, Brandon Fusco received a smaller investment from the team.
But the Falcons needed to address right guard after a rough rookie season for sixth-rounder Wes Schweitzer. Fusco signed a three-year, $12.8 million deal with $5.5 million guaranteed—an indication the 29-year-old will start for the upcoming season.
The eighth-year veteran struggled against interior pass-rushers in his final two years with the Minnesota Vikings in 2015 and 2016. The Falcons need to see more of the veteran's decent play from last year with the San Francisco 49ers.
Turning to a veteran over a rookie who's still finding his way isn't a major risk, but Fusco's potential lapses in pass protection could put quarterback Matt Ryan in harm's way.
Baltimore Ravens: Moving Up to Take Quarterback Lamar Jackson in the 1st Round
The Baltimore Ravens made a shocking move to take quarterback Lamar Jackson at No. 32 overall. General manager Ozzie Newsome gave up a second- and fourth-rounder in this year's draft plus a 2019 second-rounder to acquire the Louisville product.
When a signal-caller comes off the board in the first round, there's an expectation he's in line to start within his first few years. In this case, it's a calculated risk that gives the club a cushion in case signal-caller Joe Flacco falls flat with his new weapons at wide receiver (Michael Crabtree, John Brown) and tight end (Hayden Hurst).
Jackson's athleticism also allows offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to open up the playbook when the team does use him. The rookie passer needs development, and critics will quickly yell "bust" if he's not on the field in a few years, but the move to take Flacco's heir could pay off.
In a quarterback-driven league, Newsome may have set this franchise up for success long after he's gone; then again, Jackson may never see the field for significant snaps in a Ravens uniform if the 33-year-old Flacco defies the aging curve.
Buffalo Bills: Drafting Quarterback Josh Allen over Josh Rosen at No. 7
There's always a risk in choosing a potential franchise quarterback, especially when trading into the top 10. A poor choice could doom the roster for years. Did the Buffalo Bills pick the wrong Josh at No. 7?
Throughout the draft process, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen wore different labels. Fair or not, analysts viewed the Wyoming product as a prospect with a strong arm and accuracy issues, while others saw the former UCLA Bruin as a pro-ready rookie.
Whatever general manager Brandon Beane sells to the public as his reasons for the selection at No. 7, it's important to remember the 22-year-old Allen can stretch the field for extraordinary plays with his ability to move the pocket when under duress. The latter quality isn't part of Rosen's skill set.
Allen can compensate for holes across the offensive line. The 6'4", 218-pound Rosen, who underwent shoulder surgery during his sophomore campaign at UCLA and suffered two concussions last year as a junior, may not have the frame to endure a grueling season behind shaky pass protection. He's better suited in the pocket behind a strong, established offensive line.
During the offseason, the Bills lost center Eric Wood to a career-ending neck injury, and left guard Richie Incognito remains a free agent. Jordan Mills has struggled at right tackle through 37 starts in Buffalo. If Allen wins the starting job, his mobility will give him a better chance to overcome questionable pass protection.
Carolina Panthers: Trading Cornerback Daryl Worley
In a pass-heavy league, defenses need pass-rushers to shorten an opposing quarterback's time in the pocket or quality defensive backs to cover receivers downfield. Still, the Carolina Panthers traded cornerback Daryl Worley, who started 25 games over the past two seasons, for wideout Torrey Smith in March.
Head coach Ron Rivera explained the move to the Charlotte Observer's Joseph Person, saying, "When you go back and look at what was happening, I don't think Daryl was taking the next step in our situation and set of circumstances. And we felt that giving him a chance to go somewhere else and grow would be better for him."
Worley logged 19 pass breakups and three interceptions during his Panthers tenure, but Rivera didn't see enough progression going into his third season. Carolina intended to sign cornerback Bashaud Breeland, but he failed a physical, which leaves a wide-open competition opposite James Bradberry on the perimeter.
Perhaps Ross Cockrell will fill the boundary role or rookie Donte Jackson can claim the position. Nonetheless, the Panthers went from a two-year starter to the unknown at the No. 2 cornerback spot. Quarterbacks will test that area to open the season.
Chicago Bears: Paying Wide Receiver Allen Robinson $25.2 Million in Guarantees
Front offices often take risks to expedite a rebuilding period. It's not always a bad idea. In this case, general manager Ryan Pace inked wideout Allen Robinson to a three-year, $42 million contract to aid his young signal-caller's development.
The Bears expect quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, 23, to take a sophomore leap. He'll share the huddle with a possible No. 1 wide receiver—an asset unavailable to him in the previous campaign.
Skeptics may pump the brakes on the excitement for a Trubisky-Allen connection due to the receiver's recovery from a torn ACL, though. Secondly, before the injury, he didn't exactly rack up impressive numbers in 2016 (73 receptions, 883 yards, six TDs). Most will blame that on Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles.
The Bears hope to see Allen's 2015 form when he led the league in touchdown receptions with 14 to go with 1,400 yards. The front office paid him with that expectation, though $25.2 million in guarantees seems like a steep price for a receiver coming off a significant injury.
Cincinnati Bengals: Re-Signing Tight End Tyler Eifert
In five seasons, tight end Tyler Eifert suited up for 30 contests. In three of those years, he's played in eight games or fewer. The Cincinnati Bengals became accustomed to the 27-year-old's unavailability due to injury. Yet, his upside lured them back into another agreement.
The Bengals signed Eifert to a one-year deal with $3 million guaranteed, which isn't a huge monetary risk. However, Cincinnati may have been better off focusing on Tyler Kroft's development. He finished the previous season with 404 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.
Head coach Marvin Lewis doesn't have a definitive answer on whether Eifert will participate in summer practices. The tight end sat out mandatory minicamp for undisclosed reasons. He underwent two surgeries in the last two years to try to fix an ongoing back issue as well.
The Bengals would take anything Eifert could produce this season, but the latest injury concern flashes a clear sign they should move on after this year. The front office may have rolled snake eyes on this signing.
Cleveland Browns: Trading Defensive Tackle Danny Shelton
Defensive tackles Larry Ogunjobi and Danny Shelton paired in the middle as a rock-solid run-stopping duo for the Cleveland Browns as the team fielded 2017's No. 7 run defense.
In the midst of flipping the roster upside down during the offseason, general manager John Dorsey traded Shelton to the New England Patriots for a 2019 third-round pick.
It's a good acquisition for the defending AFC champions, but the Browns need someone to fill that void in a division with ball-carriers Le'Veon Bell, Alex Collins and Joe Mixon equipped to hit inside running lanes.
Defensive tackles Trevon Coley and Caleb Brantley will likely battle through the preseason for the starting spot. The latter has a chance to show his talent after a misdemeanor battery charge caused a significant drop in his draft stock last year. Nonetheless, it'll be a tough task for either player to duplicate Shelton's 2017 impact in the run game.
Dallas Cowboys: Releasing Wide Receiver Dez Bryant Without Offering Pay Cut
Clearly, the Dallas Cowboys had enough of wideout Dez Bryant. The front office released him in April, and the 29-year-old told NFL Network's Jane Slater he didn't have the option to rework his contract: "When asked if he was willing to take a pay reduction, Bryant responded, 'Yeah, if it was offered.'"
Bryant's cap number would've hit $16.5 million in 2018. The Cowboys designated the ninth-year wideout as a post-June 1 cut to recoup $8.5 million. Financially, it allows the team flexibility.
On the other hand, the Cowboys dismissed a pass-catcher whose production slipped with quarterback Dak Prescott under center but one who still had decent numbers. Bryant racked up 1,634 yards and 14 touchdowns over the past two seasons.
The decision to cut him takes a red-zone target off the field, and that doesn't bode well for a passing offense that ranked 18th in scores. Prescott needs to build chemistry with newcomers Allen Hurns, Deonte Thompson and rookie Michael Gallup quickly. Otherwise, running back Ezekiel Elliott will see eight in the box on a frequent basis.
Denver Broncos: Releasing Running Back C.J. Anderson
The Denver Broncos released running back C.J. Anderson after his best season. He accumulated 1,007 rushing yards on 245 carries as a starter in all 16 contests. The 27-year-old then signed with the Panthers for one year and $1.75 million.
The Broncos will turn to Devontae Booker—a 2016 fourth-rounder—who saw a drop-off in production between his rookie and sophomore years. A wrist fracture kept him on the sideline at the beginning of 2017, and he never gained steam down the stretch with Anderson in the starting role.
Head coach Vance Joseph didn't rule out rookie third-rounder Royce Freeman as a potential starter. Regardless of who wins the lead job, the Broncos hope the offensive line opens bigger holes with Ronald Leary healthy (back injury) and the addition of right tackle Jared Veldheer.
In each of the previous two seasons, Booker averaged fewer than four yards per carry. Freeman heads into the league with impressive tape from Oregon, but he's still an unknown. The Broncos boasted the No. 12 ground attack in yards last year, but the unit could take a step back without its 1,000-yard runner.
Detroit Lions: Hesitating to Extend Wide Receiver Golden Tate's Contract
Ideally, Detroit Lions wideout Golden Tate would like a new deal before his contract year.
He made note of a lucrative wide receiver market during free agency and wants a piece of the pie, per the Detroit Free Press' Dave Birkett: "Guys are getting paid a looot of money. There's guys who aren't even every-down receivers who are getting paid a lot of money, so that's obviously refreshing as a receiver to see going into this market here soon."
There's still ample time to reach a new deal before the regular season. However, the Lions may want to see how Tate performs in his ninth year.
Kenny Golladay's solid rookie season in which he accumulated 28 catches for 477 yards and three touchdowns gives the front office an alternative in case Tate goes elsewhere next offseason. Nonetheless, there's no guarantee the 2017 third-rounder will continue to develop.
The 29-year-old Tate logged three 1,000-yard seasons with the Lions and led the team in receiving yards in two of those years. If he continues to produce at a high volume, his asking price could increase.
Perhaps the Lions will move on from Tate and roll the dice on Golladay as a complement to Marvin Jones at wideout; however, risking Tate's ire and subsequent loss is a potential blow to the passing attack.
Green Bay Packers: Releasing Wide Receiver Jordy Nelson
The Green Bay Packers passing offense will look different without wideout Jordy Nelson—and with three rookie wide receivers vying for roster spots. General manager Brian Gutekunst selected J'Mon Moore, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown in the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds, respectively.
We can lock in Davante Adams and Randall Cobb as the top two wide receivers, but whoever takes over the No. 3 spot will play a significant role. According to Sharp Football Stats, the Packers utilized 11 personnel or three-wide receiver sets 60 percent of the time.
The Packers released the 33-year-old after a disappointing year in which quarterback Aaron Rodgers missed nine games largely due to a broken collarbone. Nelson then signed a two-year deal with the Oakland Raiders.
With a healthy Rodgers under center through five weeks, Nelson led the league in touchdown catches (6).
At the very least, the Packers lost a reliable red-zone threat. Tight end Jimmy Graham's arrival could render the risk negligible if he's the same touchdown machine (10) he was in 2017, though.
Houston Texans: Moving Kareem Jackson to Full-Time Safety
It's not uncommon to see a cornerback transition to safety, especially toward the end of his career. Former Packer and Raider Charles Woodson flourished at both positions. New England Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty made a successful shift early in his career.
The Houston Texans plan to move Kareem Jackson to safety as Andre Hal goes through treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma. As a physical defensive back with ball skills, the move makes sense.
The 30-year-old took the practice field at his new position and embraced the challenge, per Houston Chronicle reporter Aaron Wilson. "I like it," Jackson said. "I had a lot of work there at OTAs and minicamp. I'm looking forward to it. To me, it's all about helping the team any way I can."
Assuming the Texans make this permanent, cornerback Kevin Johnson should see more action for the upcoming year. He played 579 snaps in the previous season but only broke up two passes.
If the 2015 first-rounder doesn't hold up on the boundary, Jackson may have to slide back into his original spot, which may expose rookie Justin Reid to more snaps for the upcoming season. That isn't necessarily a bad thing for the ball-hawking Stanford product.
Indianapolis Colts: Allowing Cornerback Rashaan Melvin to Walk in Free Agency
The Indianapolis Colts allowed their best defensive back to hit the free-agent market during the offseason. Cornerback Rashaan Melvin recorded three interceptions and 13 pass breakups. He led the team, tied in picks with safety Malik Hooker, in both categories the previous season.
The 28-year-old signed a one-year, prove-it deal with the Raiders in March, which leaves the Colts with a major question mark on the boundary.
2017 second-rounder Quincy Wilson takes the spotlight as the future at the position. Cornerbacks Nate Hairston, Kenny Moore and Pierre Desir will also need to show progression.
Nonetheless, it's fair to ask why the Colts couldn't retain Melvin when he didn't sign a long-term contract. He only has one productive season under his belt, but Indianapolis may have allowed a late-bloomer to walk out the door.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Narrowing Aaron Colvin's Replacement Down to D.J. Hayden
Typically, it's best to give yourself options in life—the same holds true for football decisions. Nevertheless, the Jacksonville Jaguars have gone all in on cornerback D.J. Hayden as their nickelback. Defensive coordinator Todd Wash confirmed the notion during organized team activities.
"He played a lot of nickel out in Oakland. We evaluated him a year ago, and we liked him as a nickel. Then he goes up to Detroit, doesn't play a lot of nickel, but we knew he had that skill set. We are really locking him in at that position."
Aaron Colvin, the Jaguars' primary slot defender, signed with the Texans in March. His departure opened a spot within Jacksonville's vaunted pass defense that allowed just 17 touchdowns last year. As Wash pointed out, the team saw Hayden as a fit for his work prior to a solid year with the Lions.
It's worth noting Hayden's one year in Detroit as a heavy boundary defender went down as one of his better seasons. The Jaguars will soon find out if he's able to shift back inside and remain somewhat effective.
Kansas City Chiefs: Paying Sammy Watkins $30 Million in Guarantees
The Kansas City Chiefs gift-wrapped and placed deep threat Sammy Watkins in the huddle for quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who's prepared to start his first full season under center.
The present came at a high cost, precisely $48 million over three years with $30 million guarantees, which lists Watkins seventh among all wideouts in guaranteed money. It's a lucrative payout for a pass-catcher who has battled foot injuries with only one 1,000-yard season on his NFL resume.
The 2014 No. 4 overall pick hasn't lived up to lofty expectations coming into the league. After two years in a conservative Bills offense, Watkins didn't break out with the Los Angeles Rams last year. He logged 593 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in 15 contests.
Watkins' new salary indicates the Chiefs expect him to become a volume receiver in addition to a strong presence in the red zone. The fifth-year pass-catcher has the tools to live up to the big contract, but he must stay healthy.
Los Angeles Chargers: Adding a Rookie Ball-Carrier as Opposed to a Veteran
Since running back Melvin Gordon arrived on the scene as a 2015 first-rounder, initially in San Diego, he saw an increased workload in each subsequent season. To his credit, his rushing yard totals improved every year. In 2017, the dual-threat ball-carrier eclipsed 1,100 yards on the ground.
However, Gordon has averaged fewer than four yards per carry in all three campaigns. He's one of the best receiving tailbacks in the game. However, the Chargers need a physical ball-carrier who can push the pile in between the tackles as another cog in a ground attack that's ranked 24th or worse in yards over the past three seasons.
General manager Tom Telesco opted to select 6'0", 199-pound seventh-rounder Justin Jackson, who's similar in build to Austin Ekeler (5'10", 200 lbs). Free agent ball-carriers such as DeMarco Murray and Adrian Peterson may serve as good fits in limited roles because of their physical run styles.
The Chargers risk going into the season with an unresolved void in the backfield behind Gordon.
Los Angeles Rams: Trading a 1st-Round Pick for Wide Receiver Brandin Cooks
NFL teams have played hot potato with wideout Brandin Cooks. The New Orleans Saints and Patriots traded him after 1,000-yard seasons. Finally, the 24-year-old may have found a stable home in Los Angeles.
According to NFL Network's Steve Wyche, the Rams intend to extend Cooks' expiring contract to keep him on the roster long term. GM Les Snead gave up a first- and sixth-round pick for the speedy receiver and a fourth-rounder.
Last year, quarterback Jared Goff proved he's able to go through his reads to find the open receiver. He spread the ball among five pass-catchers with at least 25 receptions, which included three wideouts, a tight end and a running back.
Head coach Sean McVay oversees an offense that doesn't need a clear-cut No. 1 option at wide receiver, especially with Cooper Kupp's strong rookie campaign with 62 catches for 869 yards and five touchdowns.
Instead of acquiring Cooks, the Rams should've kept their first-round pick to help the defense in the next draft. Los Angeles may lose notable names on that side of the ball.
The Rams have $1.9 million in cap space. Assuming defensive tackle Aaron Donald signs a massive deal to reset the position market, it's possible Snead considers cutting impact players with high cap hits for short-term financial flexibility next offseason.
Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and safety LaMarcus Joyner, who's franchise-tagged, may not return with lucrative deals tied to a defensive tackle and wide receiver. The Rams need to hoard high draft capital, not send it away.
Miami Dolphins: Releasing Defensive Tackle Ndamukong Suh
The Miami Dolphins added $17 million in cap space after Suh's release. The transaction also created a void in the middle of the defensive line and leaves the team on the hook for $22 million in dead money owed to the 31-year-old.
The Dolphins have a smaller margin for error with free-agent acquisitions. Secondly, the run defense will likely experience leaks against strong ground attacks in the upcoming season as younger talents find their way in bigger roles.
Nonetheless, Miami didn't see the best of Suh as a pass-rusher compared to his playing days in Detroit. Davon Godchaux and Vincent Taylor could emerge in that area in expanded roles. The LSU product finished his collegiate career with 12.5 sacks, and the Oklahoma State talent logged 12 sacks through three seasons on campus.
Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, who started in 26 games over the past three campaigns, could also fill the interior void. None of the aforementioned players have Suh's talent at this point in their careers, but his exit allows the coaching staff to fully evaluate their strengths and weaknesses.
Minnesota Vikings: Paying Danielle Hunter Top-10 Defensive End Money
According to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, the Vikings signed defensive end Danielle Hunter to a five-year, $72 million extension, which nets $40 million in guaranteed cash. He lists eighth in annual salary at his position.
Hunter certainly earned the pay raise. He accumulated 25.5 sacks over the past three seasons as the bookend pass-rusher opposite Everson Griffen. The 2015 third-rounder led the team in the category with 12.5 during the 2016 campaign.
Of course, the Vikings expect the 23-year-old defensive end to continue his ascension into the discussion as a premier player at his position. Therein lies the risk in the deal.
Going into a contract year, Minnesota made a decision to pay Hunter based on talent projection—what he can become in the coming years. Now, they're hoping he builds upon a strong 2017 term.
The front office has looming contract decisions for linebacker Anthony Barr and wideout Stefon Diggs. Left guard Nick Easton wants a long-term deal hammered out before September. With $17 million left in cap space, Hunter's extension could delay or complicate negotiations with key contributors on both sides of the ball.
New England Patriots: Utilizing Offensive Lineman Isaiah Wynn at Left Tackle
Georgia product Isaiah Wynn comes into the league with experience on the left side at guard and tackle. However, at 6'2", 310 pounds, he profiles as an athletic interior offensive lineman with the power to hold off pass-rushing defensive tackles.
Nonetheless, success at left tackle on the collegiate level doesn't necessarily translate to the pros against bigger, stronger and more agile pass-rushers.
The Patriots went into the draft with a need at left tackle and decided to take Wynn at No. 23 overall and give him reps as a perimeter blocker. Assuming left guard Joe Thuney recovers from foot surgery and Shaquille Mason holds the right guard spot, Wynn's route to the starting lineup goes through a training camp battle with Trent Brown on the blind side.
In the best-case scenario, Wynn's size won't hinder his ability to handle elite defenders off the edge. However, there's still a question of whether the coaching staff tried to fit a round peg in a square hole at a premium position.
New Orleans Saints: Moving Up to No. 14 for Defensive End Marcus Davenport
While the Bills and Cardinals worked the phones to move up for a quarterback, the Saints set their sights on a pass-rusher. The front office saw something special in University of Texas at San Antonio product Marcus Davenport. The club sent the Nos. 27 and 147 picks in April's draft and a 2019 first-rounder to Green Bay to select the 6'6", 265-pound defensive end.
It's rare to see an aggressive trade-up scenario for a non-quarterback prospect in the opening round. As a result, the spotlight will follow Davenport until he justifies the Saints' decision to move up for him or stumbles under the pressure to perform on the roster that's ready to compete for a Super Bowl.
At an initial glance, the draft-day trade isn't outrageous. New Orleans fields a strong offense, which ranked No. 4 in scoring with quarterback Drew Brees at the helm last season. Over the past few years, the defense hurt this team. The unit ranked 28th or worse in points allowed before finishing 10th in 2017.
The Saints went above and beyond to acquire a defensive player, who's the potential final piece to a Super Bowl roster.
New York Giants: Drafting Running Back Saquon Barkley over a Quarterback
Some of the most heated draft debates focused on whether New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman made the right decision to pass on a quarterback for running back Saquon Barkley.
Big Blue chose to extend their faith in quarterback Eli Manning's ability to lead the offense in the short term over a plan for the future. On paper, the Giants offense looks like a top-five unit with a 21-year-old workhorse ball-carrier to complement a passing attack that features a superstar wideout in Odell Beckham Jr.
However, if the offense doesn't click or Barkley underwhelms as a rookie, fans will wonder if the front office missed on a better long-term plan as the clock ticks on Manning's career in his age-37 season. Of course, it's not a given that quarterbacks Sam Darnold, Rosen or Allen turn into stars in this league.
Manning must show he's still capable of optimal performances within a loaded offensive group. Gettleman's first-round draft decision would go down as a major blunder if the Giants signal-caller shows a continuous decline in his play.
New York Jets: Paying Cornerback Trumaine Johnson $45 Million in Guarantees
At the moment, only two cornerbacks signed deals with more guaranteed cash than Trumaine Johnson's $45 million assured payout: Josh Norman and Patrick Peterson. To put the deal in perspective among free-agent peers, Malcolm Butler signed on the dotted line with the Tennessee Titans for $30 million in guaranteed cash.
In an effort to solidify the secondary with two rising talents at safety, general manager Mike Maccagnan took an aggressive financial approach to land Johnson. The former Rams cornerback should've gone to the Pro Bowl after recording seven interceptions, returning one for a touchdown, and 17 pass breakups during the 2015 term.
However, after the Rams' move to Los Angeles, Johnson produced on the level of an average cornerback. He's logged three interceptions and broke up 24 passes over the past two seasons.
The Jets paid top dollar for a good, not exceptional, player in recent years. Maccagnan doesn't have an easy out on this deal. Starting at $10 million, Johnson's cap hit rises every year through 2022.
Oakland Raiders: Hiring Jon Gruden as Head Coach
It took six years, but Raiders owner Mark Davis lured Jon Gruden from the Monday Night Football booth back to the sidelines. He's set to pay $100 million over 10 years for his ideal head coach to lead the franchise.
Gruden's contract numbers grabbed headlines, but comments about his coaching style lit social media on fire. When asked about analytics at the NFL Scouting Combine, he provided a hot-topic talking point for pundits. "Man, I'm trying to throw back the game to 1998," Gruden said, per Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Michael Gehlken. "... I still think doing things the old-fashioned way [is the good way]."
Through free agency, the Raiders signed 12 players at 30 years or older. At that point, skeptics ran with Gruden's comment about 1998 and labeled him out of touch with today's game.
Bleacher Report's Sean Tomlinson wrote, "For reasons only clear to him, it seems he was serious about climbing into his football time machine. We know this because of more than just his words (and the comedy routine in Indianapolis). Now his actions are doing the talking, and they're much louder—and just as baffling."
It's a fair concern since he's been a broadcaster for the last nine years. However, it's naive to believe Gruden will design his roster with an archaic perspective. He's spent time with teams and coaches behind the scenes as an ESPN commentator, which gave him a front-row seat to see how the game evolved over the years.
Sure, it'll take some time to get back into head-coaching mode, but Gruden will lean on coordinators Paul Guenther and Greg Olson to help him up to speed on game day.
Davis' $100 million investment and personal affinity for Gruden indicates a long-term commitment for better or worse. Based on the pending results, it's a perfect football marriage or a disastrous hire.
Philadelphia Eagles: Releasing Linebacker Mychal Kendricks
In the previous offseason, linebacker Mychal Kendricks emerged as a likely trade candidate but nothing came to fruition. He returned for a sixth season with the Philadelphia Eagles and put together a solid campaign, finishing with 77 total tackles, six pass breakups and two sacks.
The Eagles defense finished fourth in yards and points allowed in 2017. So, if it's not broken, there's no need to fix anything, right? Well, not exactly. The front office opted to release the starting linebacker in May. As always the case, teams face a potential setback in production when looking to replace a starter.
On the same day as Kendricks' release, sixth-year veteran Paul Worrilow tore his ACL during practice.
Now, the Eagles' risky transaction turns into a potential miscue as the linebacker group looks thin with Corey Nelson, coming over from the Broncos' 3-4 defense, and former safety Nathan Gerry as the top candidates to fill the starting role.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Utilizing Rookie Terrell Edmunds as a Linebacker
The Steelers will give first-rounder Terrell Edmunds a chance to show his versatility. He took reps at linebacker through rookie minicamp.
On one hand, it seems logical to keep rookies focused on their natural or most recently played position early, but the Steelers may have bigger plans for the Virginia Tech product, per Pittsburgh Gazette reporter Gerry Dulac: "Right now, Edmunds, a safety who will play like a linebacker in some of the Steelers sub-packages, is trying to absorb as much as he can as quickly as he can, knowing he will be an early contributor in Keith Butler’s defensive schemes."
Pittsburgh signed ninth-year veteran Morgan Burnett to a three-year deal. He'll pair with Sean Davis at the starting safety spots. It's possible the coaching staff could prepare Edmunds to fill in for inside linebacker Ryan Shazier, whose future remains uncertain due to a spinal injury.
Edmunds lined up in different spots in the Hokies defense, but a fluctuating role could hinder his development, especially if he's overthinking instead of moving freely. Training camp will shed more light on his fit in certain packages, but the coaching staff may put the 21-year-old on the fast track to a prominent role.
San Francisco 49ers: Paying Left Guard Laken Tomlinson $10 Million in Guarantees
Offensive lineman Laken Tomlinson came a long way for his three-year, $18 million extension with the 49ers. The new deal will also yield $10 million in guarantees.
The Lions selected Tomlinson No. 28 overall in the 2015 draft, and he fell terribly short of expectations through 24 starts. Detroit traded him to San Francisco for a fifth-round pick last offseason. To his credit, he flashed as a decent run-blocker in head coach Kyle Shanahan's scheme.
However, he still showed lapses in pass-blocking responsibilities. In today's league, defensive coordinators can dial up pocket pressure in various spots across the front line, and guards must show the ability to thwart an interior push in the A- and B-gaps.
Without an established starter at right guard, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo could see a lot of pressure up the middle.
Seattle Seahawks: Releasing Cornerback Richard Sherman
There's no way to frame the decision to release cornerback Richard Sherman as one without cons. Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider decided to part ways with a three-time All-Pro who's accumulated the most interceptions (32) between 2011-17.
Seattle saved $11 million in cap space, and there's concern about the 30-year-old's two procedures on both his Achilles within four months. However, the Seahawks lose Sherman's leadership qualities, which he displayed throughout 49ers practices. On the field, the defense loses the four-time Pro Bowler's playmaking abilities, assuming he fully recovers from the surgeries.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick does this often, but it's a slippery slope to release a player before he shows clears signs of decline. If Sherman performs at an optimal level, the Seahawks will have egg on their face watching him play for a division rival.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Paying Center Ryan Jensen $22 Million in Guarantees
At center, Ryan Jensen started all 16 games for the first time in his career with the Ravens in 2017. He parlayed a solid year into a four-year, $42 million deal during the offseason. The fourth-year pro's $22 million in guarantees lists fifth among all players at his position.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers took a big swing at a one-year wonder in a full-time starting role. Jensen doesn't have an extensive body of work that would make a fanbase feel comfortable, but his presence allows Ali Marpet to move back to right guard. Essentially, the acquisition addressed two interior spots.
It's possible we saw Jensen's best in Baltimore, but the Buccaneers hope he's a long-term solution and a foundational piece for an offensive line that needs a push up front in the ground attack. If the former Raven fails to deliver, many will look back at this deal as a head-scratcher.
Tennessee Titans: Hiring Mike Vrabel as a Head Coach
It's imperative the Titans find a suitable coaching staff to develop quarterback Marcus Mariota. In 2017, he took a significant step backward after two solid campaigns.
The Titans fired Mike Mularkey and brought in Mike Vrabel as the lead skipper. He's only spent one year in a coordinator role with a background as a defensive coach.
Vrabel hired Matt LaFleur for the offensive coordinator position. He spent a year in the same role with the Rams, who finished with the No. 1 scoring offense last year. However, one may question his influence on the unit's success with McVay, an experienced play-caller, as the head coach.
Vrabel will trust LaFleur to develop Mariota despite his limited, unproven background as an offensive coordinator. It's a huge gamble for the Titans, who hope to see the 2015 No. 2 overall pick rebound from a subpar season, throwing 13 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions.
Washington Redskins: Trading for Quarterback Alex Smith, Extending His Contract
In January, the Redskins executed a blockbuster offseason trade deal for quarterback Alex Smith, and then fully committed to him with a four-year, $94 million extension.
For starters, Washington sent a 2018 third-round pick and cornerback Kendall Fuller to Kansas City, which put a strain on the secondary with Breeland on an expiring contract. More importantly, it's debatable whether the Redskins acquired an upgrade at quarterback.
Smith doesn't commit too many errors, but it seems the Chiefs moved up in the 2017 draft because they felt Mahomes would take the offense to the next level. Washington may have settled for what they could get at quarterback to avoid the tough process of trading up for a top passer in April's draft.
Nonetheless, the Redskins decided to go all in with Smith, who's logged 20-plus touchdown passes in three out of 12 campaigns. Washington's viability as a playoff contender will hinge on the three-time Pro Bowler's ability to elevate the offense. Based on his track record, it's a costly gamble.
Contract details courtesy of Spotrac.com.