Boom-or-Bust Predictions for the NFL's Biggest Offseason Moves of 2019
Bigger is often better for NFL teams in search of change. A splash in free agency or on the trade market sends a jolt throughout an organization and its fan base.
But bigger doesn't automatically equate to better.
Not every organization strives to win the offseason. Some are content to remain boring while others steal the spotlight.
The Los Angeles Rams reshaped themselves into NFC champions last offseason by adding wide receiver Brandin Cooks, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters. The New England Patriots, meanwhile, allowed left tackle Nate Solder, wide receiver Danny Amendola, cornerback Malcolm Butler and running back Dion Lewis to leave in free agency before they made a few minor trades on their way to another Super Bowl victory.
Some of this offseason's mega-deals will work in the teams' favor. Others will not. But which are most likely to pay off as others implode?
The following 10 deals are among the league's biggest thus far, and all have boom-or-bust potential.
Odell Beckham Jr. Makes Cleveland Browns into Legit Contenders
The Cleveland Browns are the softest possible landing spot for Odell Beckham Jr. The mercurial wide receiver now has the right supporting cast to maximize his talent while keeping the passionate performer in check.
Beckham's friendship with fellow wide receiver Jarvis Landry is only part of the equation.
"It feel good! I love you brudda," Landry posted on Instagram after the Browns traded this year's 17th overall pick, a third-round selection and safety Jabrill Peppers to acquire the three-time Pro Bowler from the New York Giants.
Wide receivers coach Adam Henry is the secret ingredient to make this star-studded group work. He served as Beckham and Landry's position coach during their final two years at LSU and eventually took over as a Giants assistant to, once again, coach Beckham during the 2016 and '17 campaigns.
Furthermore, Beckham already has an established relationship with Baker Mayfield after the quarterback joined the two pass-catchers to train in California last offseason.
The Browns have an exceptional amount of offensive talent with their top two receivers, Mayfield, starting tailback Nick Chubb, running back Kareem Hunt (once he returns from an eight-game suspension), tight end David Njoku and fellow wide receivers Rashard Higgins and Antonio Callaway.
With head coach Freddie Kitchens and offensive coordinator Todd Monken devising game plans, the Browns are an explosive offense waiting to happen.
Le'Veon Bell Becomes New York Jets' Primary Offensive Weapon
Le'Veon Bell got everything he wanted after sitting out last season. Or so he says. Now, he's ready to become the focal point of the New York Jets offense after he signed a four-year, $52.5 million contract.
"The way I'm feeling right now, I know I can play at least five more years, easily," Bell told Sports Illustrated's Jenny Vrentas. "That's easy. ... But I could easily play five more years, I feel so good. This is literally the best I've ever felt."
Questions about the Jets' investment in the running back position and whether Bell will experience any rust after skipping a season are legitimate, but the real issues involve roster construction.
Bell will help take pressure off second-year signal-caller Sam Darnold. However, the offensive line remains incomplete, and the unit lacks outside weapons.
Yes, the organization acquired guard Kelechi Osemele via trade from the Oakland Raiders. But it failed to address the center position in free agency. Jamison Crowder is a nice addition, but he's a slot receiver. Though Quincy Enunwa is one of the league's better targets after the catch, he's not a downfield option. Robby Anderson needs a complement to work outside the numbers.
Bell is a significant piece to the puzzle. His presence alone doesn't complete the Jets offense, though.
Antonio Brown Remains the Best in Raider-Land
"In my opinion, we acquired the best receiver in football," head coach Jon Gruden said of Brown during the wide receiver's introductory press conference.
Statistically, no one has been able to match his six consecutive 100-reception, 1,200-yard seasons. Brown is a complete target with a lightning-quick release and exceptional route-running skill. The Raiders lacked a true top option, and the coaching staff will devise ways to get its new featured wideout the ball as much as possible.
"I've never seen a better connection between a player and a coach than when these two got together," general manager Mike Mayock said of Brown and Gruden, per the San Jose Mercury News' Matt Schneidman. " … They were like little kids in a laboratory. And tha'’s why we're so excited."
Furthermore, the Raiders weren't content after they landed Brown. They were one of the NFL's most aggressive teams at the start of the new league year.
They made Trent Brown the game's highest-paid offensive lineman to keep quarterback Derek Carr upright. Also, wide receivers Tyrell Williams and J.J. Nelson signed to provide two more vertical threats.
Nick Foles Becomes the Jacksonville Jaguars' Franchise Quarterback
The Jacksonville Jaguars aren't built for Nick Foles' brand of football.
The front office previously chose a safe, run-first and physical approach to complement a standout defense while simultaneously hiding Blake Bortles.
A good run game helps all quarterbacks. However, the specific talent found on the roster will make it difficult for Jacksonville to enjoy a full return on its four-year, $88 million Bortles replacement.
Foles, a 30-year-old former Super Bowl MVP, is at his best operating from the shotgun and making quick decisions through half-field reads or run-pass options. Franchise running back Leonard Fournette is a traditional downhill I-formation back. One of the two will be at a disadvantage while acquiescing to the other.
Granted, John DeFilippo's inclusion as Jacksonville's offensive coordinator will help cater the system to Foles' strengths after the two worked together during the Philadelphia Eagles' 2017 Super Bowl run. But the staff can only do so much with the available talent.
Right tackle is a gaping hole. The organization decided to release veteran Jermey Parnell, who started 57 games after he signed in Jacksonville prior to the 2015 campaign. The wide receiver corps is filled with undersized and inconsistent options. Tight end lacks a starting-caliber option.
As a result, Foles will have a hard time replicating the success he experienced in Philadelphia.
Dee Ford Provides San Francisco 49ers with More Pass-Rush Punch
Successful defenses often come at opposing quarterbacks in waves. Those units are only capable of doing so by placing numerous pass-rushers on the field.
Despite three straight first-round defensive line additions from 2015-17, the San Francisco 49ers lacked a true edge presence until they flipped a 2020 second-round pick to the Kansas City Chiefs for Dee Ford.
"You can turn on the tape and he scares you as a coach because you can see how fast he gets off the ball," 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said during Ford's introductory press conference.
Now, the Niners are building a formidable front with quite a bit invested in the position.
Once San Francisco reduces to sub-packages, Ford will pair with DeForest Buckner, Solomon Thomas and Sheldon Day along the interior. The newly minted $85.5 million edge-rusher can shorten the pocket while the others collapse upon the quarterback.
Ford led all edge-rushers last season with 84 total pressures, according to Pro Football Focus.
Here's the scariest part: The 49ers are positioned to land another elite defensive lineman with the second overall pick in April's draft. Ohio State's Nick Bosa and Kentucky's Josh Allen, in particular, could play opposite Ford to create a complete front four.
Joe Flacco Is the Signal-Caller the Denver Broncos Need to Compete
As Tom Brady and Drew Brees continue to rewrite records books into their early 40s, other teams can't assume all established signal-callers will play well at an advanced age.
Unfortunately, the Denver Broncos appear to be making this mistake. The organization traded a 2019 fourth-round pick for 34-year-old Joe Flacco.
"We looked at what we want to do offensively—try to get the ball downfield. And the availability of Joe and the success he's had as a starter and in the playoffs, he won a Super Bowl" general manager John Elway said after Flacco's acquisition, per Denver 9News' Mike Klis. "... He's only 34 years old, so we think he has a lot of football ahead of him. I thought he would be a perfect fit for us."
System fit and familiarity with head coach Vic Fangio will ease the transition. But Flacco is, at best, a mediocre quarterback without a strong supporting cast. The Broncos are suspect along the offensive line, lack weapons at tight end and will rely heavily on two second-year wide receivers in Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton.
They may still want to consider selecting a quarterback with the 10th overall pick.
Michael Bennett Replaces Trey Flowers in New England Patriots' Lineup
The New England Patriots are a brilliantly run organization (as if anyone didn't already know that). They continue to demonstrate that year in and year out despite playing in the most tumultuous era of pro football history.
Of course, the Patriots would love to re-sign some of their top talents before they leave in free agency, but that's not always feasible. This year, both left tackle Trent Brown and defensive end Trey Flowers ended up on other squads.
New England will get the last laugh, though.
The Patriots used third- and fourth-round picks to acquire Brown and Flowers, respectively. They're now positioned to recoup a pair of third-round compensatory draft picks next year.
Meanwhile, New England already had Brown's replacement on the roster—last year's 23rd overall selection, Isaiah Wynn. It then flipped a 2020 fifth-round pick to acquire 34-year-old Michael Bennett and a 2020 seventh-round selection.
In the immediate future, Bennett fills the void Flowers left and may even be an upgrade. He presents a similar skill set with his ability to rush the edge while sliding inside in sub-packages to exploit potential mismatches. The two had the same number of quarterback pressures (78) last season, as USA Today's Doug Farrar noted, and Bennett managed 1.5 more sacks.
Trey Flowers Doesn't Bring 'The Patriot Way' to Detroit
Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia only know one way: the Patriot Way. Neither decision-maker worked for any other professional organization before taking over the Lions, and their approach in free agency reflects a limited scope.
"Really, it comes down to what guys are available to you, what guys you think as a system fit and what guys do you know you might have some personal experience with that you feel better about giving a big contract to," Quinn said in February, per 247Sports' Max Demara.
The mistake lies within Quinn's fundamental misunderstanding of team building. Familiarity doesn't need to be a free-agent requirement. The right guys aren't always those with whom a staff once worked at a previous stop.
Yet the Lions' three major signings—defensive end Trey Flowers, cornerback Justin Coleman and wide receiver Danny Amendola—are all former Patriots.
Flowers is an outstanding player just entering his prime. He knows Patricia and how he'll be utilized in the defensive scheme.
However, he'll have a difficult time living up to a five-year, $90 million contract. Flowers is now paid more than J.J. Watt, Chandler Jones, Jason Pierre-Paul, Calais Campbell and Danielle Hunter on an annual basis, even though he's not counted among the league's elite edge-rushers.
Earl Thomas Provides Baltimore Ravens' D with New Identity
Earl Thomas is the standard by which all other free safeties are judged. That hasn't changed simply because he ended last season on injured reserve (thanks to a broken leg) and will turn 30 years old before the 2019 campaign.
Thomas' sideline-to-sideline range remains unequaled. But the Baltimore Ravens, who swooped in with a four-year, $55 million contract, needed a leader as much as a defensive playmaker. They lost three defensive stalwarts this offseason—Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley departed in free agency, while the organization released Eric Weddle.
Someone around whom they could form an identity became a necessity.
"Well, you look at Ed Reed, guys like Ray Lewis, I feel like that's my style of play," Thomas said at his introductory press conference. "I have that type of swagger. It's a historic franchise, so I definitely have an opportunity to bring my blueprint to the table."
The Seattle Seahawks built a defensive scheme around Thomas' skill set. He served as the eraser along the backline for the Legion of Boom, and his presence in the lineup cannot be overstated. According to Sharp Football's Warren Sharp, the Seahawks ranked first overall in quarterback rating allowed with the veteran safety in the lineup from 2016-18, but they dropped to No. 30 when he didn't play.
The Ravens may look different on defense next season, but don't expect last year's top-ranked unit to take a step back with Thomas leading the way.
Landon Collins Is Defensive Difference-Maker Washington Desperately Needed
The Washington Redskins don't have any semblance of a plan. The organization lacks a cohesive vision. Even simple communication seems to be a problem.
According to Eric Bickel of 106.7 The Fan, Washington signed safety Landon Collins to a six-year, $84 million contract without consulting head coach Jay Gruden, who heard about the deal through the media. Senior vice president of player personnel Doug Williams didn't even take the team's scheme or fit into consideration.
"When we look at players we look at talent," Williams said of Collins' signing, per NBC Sports Washington's JP Finlay. "It's up to the defensive coordinator and the defensive back coaches to scheme him up. We're not in the room with the scheme. I don't know exactly what the scheme is."
Collins has made the Pro Bowl each of the last three seasons and has managed at least 96 total tackles every year he's played. He's a tone-setter and downhill force who can bump to linebacker or nickel cornerback if needed.
Simply put, he's already one of the best players at his position.
Sadly, some of the best performers are ruined by circumstances outside their control. The Washington franchise is a train wreck waiting to happen with a lame-duck head coach who has no internal sway and a front office with no clue what it's doing.