2019 NFL Offseason Acquisitions Set to Make the Most Impact
When front offices acquire veteran talent, it's a power play for short-term gain. The proven commodities are expected to provide an immediate boost at their respective positions. This offseason, several teams swung for the fences and should reap the benefits in 2019.
In a strange year, two of the top wide receivers in the league went to new teams via trade, and a top-five running back hit the free-agent market. Multiple second-tier pass-rushers changed locations as well.
Some clubs will overpay for high-end talent or sacrifice draft capital for good reason. Other general managers prefer to buy low on veterans coming off a down year, hoping for a strong rebound season.
Which buyers made sound investments? We'll take a look at the top 10 offseason acquisitions and rank them based on potential impact on their teams for the 2019 campaign. The selections here focus on production projections with a look at past history and roster fit as primary factors.
10. RB Mark Ingram, Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson must answer a big unresolved question about his ability to throw accurately downfield. He completed no more than 14 passes in each of his eight starts (one in the postseason) last year. We know the Louisville product can use his legs to move the chains, but the position requires him to push the ball through the air.
Although Jackson may look to quiet his doubters, Baltimore picked up some backfield insurance in case the offensive approach goes conservative. Running back Mark Ingram signed a three-year, $15 million deal with the Ravens earlier this month. He's now the most accomplished tailback on the depth chart, which likely equates to a significant role.
In 2018, Jackson finished second on the team in rushing yards (695) behind running back Gus Edwards (718), but this season, the Ravens should cut down on their quarterback's carries to limit the wear and tear on his body. As a result, Ingram and Edwards are primed for a busy year, especially if the signal-caller struggles to challenge pass defenses.
On a deal averaging $5 million per year, expect Ingram to remain on the field for a majority of the snaps. He's tough to bring down between the tackles and is solid in pass protection. He logged back-to-back seasons of 1,000-plus rushing yards in 2016 and 2017 and is a two-time Pro Bowler. On top of that, he's also totaled 228 catches for 1,598 receiving yards and five touchdowns with the New Orleans Saints since being drafted in 2011.
The 29-year-old may finish with a career high in yards from scrimmage in a ball-control offense.
9. DE Dee Ford, San Francisco 49ers
Forget the costly encroachment penalty in the AFC Championship Game for a moment. Defensive end Dee Ford put together his best season in the pros with 13 sacks and seven forced fumbles. He bounced back from an injury-riddled 2017 campaign and become a Pro Bowler.
In exchange for a 2020 second-round pick, the Kansas City Chiefs traded Ford to the San Francisco 49ers in the midst of a defensive schematic shift to a 4-3 base under new play-caller Steve Spagnuolo. The fifth-year pro lined up within an even-man front on the collegiate level at Auburn. He shouldn't have an issue in a pass-rushing role with his new team.
However, Ford won't have linebacker Justin Houston demanding attention on the opposite side or defensive tackle Chris Jones dominating the line of scrimmage on the interior. The 49ers need defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to continue his push toward the pocket next season; he logged 12 sacks in 2018.
Ford may not top his 2018 numbers with lesser talent around him in the front seven. Nonetheless, he's a proven edge-rusher who will speed up the quarterback's time in the pocket and potentially close out tight games.
8. WR DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles
Wide receiver DeSean Jackson's tenure had run its course in Tampa Bay, so the Buccaneers traded him and a 2020 seventh-round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles for a sixth-rounder in the upcoming draft. Jackson now goes back to where his career started in 2008.
The 32-year-old wideout is still one of the top deep threats in the league. In two of the last three seasons, he led the NFL in yards per reception.
While catching passes from Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston last year, Jackson averaged 18.9 yards per reception. He should benefit from an upgrade at quarterback in Philadelphia. Of course, Carson Wentz has to stay healthy, because without him, the Eagles can't maximize Jackson's value on the field.
If Wentz shakes the injury bug, his connection with Jackson will generate highlights throughout the year. The 26-year-old signal-caller isn't afraid to push the ball downfield. Coming off an ACL injury, he suited up for 11 contests and logged 37 completions of 20-plus yards during the last campaign.
On a rankings list, that doesn't seem like much compared to other quarterbacks who played full seasons, but the number will increase with a capable speedster on the perimeter.
Philadelphia's receiving stable struggled to stretch the field last year: Nelson Agholor was the only Eagles wide receiver to log double-digit catches of 20-plus yards. And among Eagles pass-catchers with at least 25 receptions, Alshon Jeffery averaged 13.0 yards per reception, which led the team. If Jackson breaks free, Wentz will find him—probably for a huge gain.
7. S Tyrann Mathieu, Kansas City Chiefs
Tyrann Mathieu deserves more credit for his versatility because he's more than a top-notch safety. The 26-year-old can line up in multiple spots, on the strong side, in center field or the slot.
First and foremost, Mathieu knows how to find the football when it's in the air. In six seasons, he's recorded 13 interceptions and 49 pass breakups, primarily in the safety position. Last year, the Houston Texans unleashed him closer to the line of scrimmage, and the LSU product finished the season with three sacks, five tackles for loss and 70 solo tackles.
The Chiefs released veteran safety Eric Berry shortly after they signed Mathieu. Now, Spagnuolo can keep cornerback Kendall Fuller in the slot and move the team's new addition between the safety spots. The coaching staff will be able to experiment with the personnel because of Mathieu's versatility.
Quarterbacks may want to avoid Mathieu in coverage, but his foot speed and awareness will lead him to the action as a playmaker. The All-Pro safety is the most established defensive back in Kansas City's secondary, and the coaching staff could use him to align the personnel based on what he's able to see at his position. Mathieu may also serve as an instrumental component in pre-snap disguises.
6. EDGE Za'Darius Smith, Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers paid big money to an ascending edge-rusher when they signed Za'Darius Smith to a four-year, $66 million deal. Smith reached new heights with the Ravens in 2018, logging a career-high 8.5 sacks. In four seasons, he's started just 16 games, but based on his new contract, expect Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to increase his workload.
The front office released linebacker Nick Perry, and longtime defensive cornerstone Clay Matthews signed a two-year deal with the Los Angeles Rams. Now, the Green Bay coaching staff will look toward Smith, Kyler Fackrell and Preston Smith to bolster the pass rush, specifically off the edge.
In Baltimore, Za'Darius Smith lined up with Terrell Suggs and Matt Judon, both of whom elevated his game over the last two years. The Packers' penetrating defensive line should eat up blocks, which would allow their top acquisition on that side of the ball to see more one-on-one matchups.
At 6'4", 272 pounds, Smith can also move across the formation and shift inside in sub-packages. He's a downhill defender who's going to supplement the Packers' mediocre run defense (22nd in 2018) with the potential to lead the team in sacks.
5. DE Trey Flowers, Detroit Lions
Unlike Ford in San Francisco and Smith in Green Bay, defensive end Trey Flowers will be reuniting with a former play-caller in his new destination. Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia served as Flowers' defensive coordinator with the New England Patriots and guided him through two strong seasons between 2016-17.
Under Patricia, Flowers logged 13.5 sacks. He also moved inside to set the edge against the run, and he'll likely take on similar responsibilities in Detroit. Most importantly, the 25-year-old steps into the lineup to replace Ezekiel Ansah, whose 2018 season ended prematurely after re-injuring the same shoulder that required surgery after his rookie year. Ansah remains available on the free-agent market.
Last season, the Lions run defense ranked 10th in the league; Flowers' toughness and ability to wrap up ball-carriers on the ends should further push this unit to the top in yards allowed on the ground.
Flowers' familiarity with Patricia's system should help him become an immediate high-end contributor in Detroit. Because of his age, the fourth-year pro may not have hit his ceiling yet.
4. QB Nick Foles, Jacksonville Jaguars
Quarterback Nick Foles brings championship experience to the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team that came close to its first Super Bowl appearance two years ago. The 30-year-old quarterback knows what it takes to beat the Patriots in a high-stakes contest.
Beyond the intangibles, Foles has a sketchy resume. He's never started a full season, and he's played in just 54 games in seven years. Can the Jaguars trust him to be the long-term answer under center?
In Jacksonville, Foles won't have two-time Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz, big-bodied target Alshon Jeffery or head coach Doug Pederson. But the veteran signal-caller will reconnect with new Jags offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, who served as the Eagles quarterbacks coach during Foles' improbable run to a Super Bowl LII victory.
Last year in Minnesota, DeFilippo designed an effective passing attack, which ranked 10th in touchdowns. The inability to establish the run contributed to his dismissal, but he may not have that issue with Leonard Fournette in the backfield. Jacksonville also paid top dollar for guard Andrew Norwell last offseason, which helps the Jaguars have the personnel to balance their attack.
Foles doesn't have to become Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady to impact the offense. He just needs to pose a viable threat through the air. If he accomplishes that feat with timely completions, the ball-carriers should see wider running lanes.
Furthermore, a serviceable signal-caller allows the Jaguars to optimize their talent at wide receiver. In his second year, Dede Westbrook took another step forward in his development and led the team in receiving yards (717) and touchdowns (five). D.J. Chark, who averaged 20.5 yards per catch at LSU, could flash his big-play ability, and perhaps Keelan Cole will bounce back from a subpar 2018. Assuming Marqise Lee makes a full recovery from a torn ACL, he's capable of steady production.
3. WR Antonio Brown, Oakland Raiders
There's a clear divide between the previous seven players and the top three on this list, starting with Antonio Brown, a four-time All-Pro wide receiver. He's led the league in catches and receiving yards twice. Last year, the seven-time Pro Bowler was No. 1 in touchdown receptions with 15.
The Oakland Raiders acquired Brown from the Pittsburgh Steelers in early March, helping to fill a hole at receiver that had existed since the Raiders traded Amari Cooper for a first-round pick before last year's deadline.
During Cooper's time with the Silver and Black, he took over in some contests, yet underwhelmed in others. In 52 outings with the Raiders, he logged 50 or more receiving yards in just 25 of those. Brown's resume shows much more consistency. Since being drafted in 2010, he leads the league in receiving yards (11,207) and is second in touchdown receptions (74).
Quarterback Derek Carr hasn't yet thrown passes to a wide receiver on Brown's level. The veteran signal-caller is the obvious and immediate beneficiary of this trade.
But Oakland's porous offensive line knocks Brown's potential impact down a couple of notches. In 2018, Carr took 51 sacks. Although the front office signed offensive tackle Trent Brown this offseason, Kolton Miller still has a lot to prove: He allowed 13 sacks during his rookie season, per Washington Post's STATs. The Raiders also must tab a starting left guard after trading Kelechi Osemele to the New York Jets earlier this month.
If Carr doesn't have enough time to throw, the offense won't experience the full effect of Brown's elite talent.
However, Brown will demand double coverage, which opens up opportunities for his teammates. He can also rack up yards on short throws if Carr is constantly under duress.
2. WR Odell Beckham Jr., Cleveland Browns
Based on the likelihood of producing big numbers, wideout Odell Beckham Jr. landed in a better situation than Antonio Brown. That's not a slight against Derek Carr, but rather an acknowledgement of Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield's more favorable situation.
Last season, the rookie signal-caller took only 25 sacks compared to Carr's 51, and after Week 9, he was sacked just three times, compared to 23 for Carr.
The Browns front office did trade guard Kevin Zeitler to the New York Giants in exchange for Beckham, but 2018 second-rounder Austin Corbett could slide into the starting lineup.
New head coach Freddie Kitchens took over offensive coordinator duties after Hue Jackson and Todd Haley were fired in October, and Kitchens masked some of the offensive line flaws with calls for quick throws, which kept his quarterback out of harm's way. Assuming that continues with a rookie on the interior, Mayfield won't face much heat in the pocket. As a result, he'll have ample time to throw darts to Beckham downfield.
Beckham will also have more pass-catching talent around him. Jarvis Landry is a four-time Pro Bowler. Rashard Higgins saw a significant production boost in his third season (572 receiving yards and four touchdowns). Among rookie wideouts, Antonio Callaway ranked fifth in yards (586) and tied for third in touchdowns (five). Tight end David Njoku also poses a viable threat in the seams.
Like DeSean Jackson, Beckham lands in a spot with a better quarterback. In an ESPN interview with Josina Anderson back in October, Beckham questioned whether Giants QB Eli Manning could deliver the ball to him with consistency. The three-time Pro Bowler won't have that problem in Cleveland with Mayfield under center.
If Beckham stays healthy, the 26-year-old should return to elite form in Cleveland. He's quicker than Landry—his receptions on slants could go 20-plus yards—meaning the sixth-year veteran provides a new dimension to the Browns offense.
1. RB Le'Veon Bell, New York Jets
Le'Veon Bell takes the top spot because his production isn't solely dependent on a quarterback's accuracy in the pocket, and he's directly responsible for touchdowns, unlike defensive players.
The New York Jets acquired a top-notch running back and a reliable pass-catcher when they signed Bell. His ability to impact the game as a dual threat is unmatched among the highlight acquisitions. From 2013-2017, he ranked second in yards from scrimmage (7,996) behind LeSean McCoy, who played 13 more games.
At 27 years old and with only five seasons on his resume, Bell should be ready to contribute in significant fashion, especially after missing all of 2018 due to a contract dispute with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Jets quarterback Sam Darnold now has a viable option in the short passing game and a matchup cheat code against linebackers and safeties in the middle of the field.
New left guard Kelechi Osemele's raw power on the interior will also allow Bell to run with patience between the tackles in way that will be reminiscent of his style in Pittsburgh. The Jets landed a fresh ball-carrier with a skill set that allows him to flash as a threat all over the field. As such, Bell is best set up to elevate this offense and his team in a productive season.