Ranking the 25 Best Moves of the 2019 NFL Offseason
With Memorial Day and summer just around the corner, the NFL's focus has changed. Now, player acquisitions have given way to OTAs, the first step in readying the league's new-look teams for the march to Super Bowl LIV in Miami.
This isn't to say that there won't be a few more signings of note (Ndamukong Suh, for instance). But, for the most part, we know what 2019's team roster iterations will look like.
And that makes it a perfect time to hop on the ol' Hindsight Express and offer up the 25 best free-agent signings, draft picks and trades of 2019.
There are a number of criteria that went into selecting and sorting these. The players involved were a factor, of course. So was the impact to the team involved, both in 2019 and beyond. The value of the pick or signing was also a consideration.
That last one's the reason that, with a couple of exceptions, you won't find this year's biggest-ticket free agents on this list. That isn't to say that the New York Jets were unwise to add Le'Veon Bell and C.J. Mosley. Or that the Raiders weren't smart to ink offensive tackle Trent Brown. But those teams paid retail—and then some. So, while those may have been good moves, in an offseason featuring scores of signings, quite a few trades and over 250 draft picks, they weren't good enough in totality to crack my top 25.
These moves were.
25. Cardinals Drafting WR Hakeem Butler No. 103 Overall
Heading into the 2019 NFL draft, Iowa State's Hakeem Butler was regarded in many circles as one of the best wide receiver prospects in the class. Luke Easterling of Draft Wire ranked the 6'5" 227-pounder second behind D.K. Metcalf of Ole Miss.
However, it appears that NFL teams disagreed. Despite a standout career with the Cyclones, Over a dozen wideouts came off the board before the Arizona Cardinals selected Butler with the first pick of the fourth round.
Butler said in his introductory presser (via Kyle Odegard of the team's website) that he's used to being overlooked.
"Everything to this moment, I feel like people have tried to make an excuse for why not me," Butler said. "I’ve always just shut people up like, 'Yeah, it’s me, and it’s supposed to be me.' That's how my life has gone, and I wouldn't expect anything less."
This is a no-lose situation for the Redbirds. If Butler doesn't pan out, no biggie. If the draft community was right about the big-bodied pass-catcher though, Arizona will have snared the steal of the draft at the position.
24. Eagles Trading for RB Jordan Howard
As a rookie in 2016, Jordan Howard topped 1,300 yards on the ground, averaged over five yards a carry and made the Pro Bowl. His yards per carry slipped in 2017, but Howard still picked up over 1,100 rushing yards and scored nine touchdowns on the ground.
Howard's yards per carry dropped again in 2018—to under four yards a pop. He also failed to hit 1,000 yards on the ground for the first time. But Howard again found the end zone nine times and topped 1,000 total yards for the Chicago Bears.
Howard's reward for those three years of relatively steady production? Getting shipped to the Philadelphia Eagles for the draft capital equivalent of a bag of Combos.
Howard doesn't add much in the passing game. And with rookie Miles Sanders also joining the team in the offseason, Howard may not even be part of the team's long-term plans.
But the Eagles landed a Pro Bowl tailback for a Day 3 pick in the 2020 draft.
Hard to argue with that value.
23. Panthers Signing C Matt Paradis
The health of Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton's surgically repaired right shoulder is the dominant storyline hovering over the team. But part of the reason that Newton got banged up is a Panthers O-line that has surrendered over 35 sacks per season since Newton entered the NFL In 2011.
The Panthers were able to stop that line from getting worse by re-signing right tackle Daryl Williams. But the even bigger get for the team was the acquisition of veteran center Matt Paradis as a replacement for the retired Ryan Kalil.
Yes, Paradis is coming off an injury-shortened 2018 campaign in Denver. But there's been nothing to indicate that his recovery isn't proceeding according to plan, and, when healthy, the 29-year-old is one of the better centers in the game.
Add in an average annual salary that came in south of $10 million a season, and it's a great get for a team that needs to do a better job of protecting its star quarterback if it wants to return to the postseason.
22. Patriots Drafting Chase Winovich No. 77 Overall
It seemingly happens every year in the NFL draft—with maddening regularity. A talented player who appears an ideal fit for the greatest dynasty in league history just plops into Darth Hoodie's lap.
There is absolutely zero doubt that Bill Belichick is a warlock. And maybe a Sith lord.
This year, that player was Michigan edge-rusher Chase Winovich, who the Patriots selected in the top half of the third round. As Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown told Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald, the high-motor Winovich and New England's scheme are a near-perfect match.
"He’s a trip, no question, but he's a very serious football player," Brown said. "He's one of those guys who loves the game, plays the game the right way all the time. You never have to worry about his effort. He's going to give you everything he’s got ... I think going into Coach Belichick's system, this is probably a match made in heaven for him."
As soon as this pick happened a name popped into my head—Rob Ninkovich. He was another player who made up for a lack of elite athleticism with sheer relentlessness.
Finding another Nink in Round 3 is so nauseatingly New England.
21. Jaguars Drafting OT Jawaan Taylor No. 35 Overall
The boys and girls in Jacksonville must have been very good in 2019—because Christmas came early for the Jacksonville Jaguars this year.
First, Kentucky edge-rusher Josh Allen fell to the Jags at No. 7 overall—a gift of a pick that will help further fortify an already formidable pass-rush.
As good as that pick was, the next was even better.
With the third pick of Round 2, the Jaguars selected Florida tackle Jawaan Taylor—a 6'5", 312-pound mauler of a right tackle prospect who was being mocked as a potential top-10 pick for much of the pre-draft process.
Taylor told Despina Barton of Central Florida News 13 that he's eager to show all the teams that passed on him that they made a mistake.
"I always have something to prove my whole life, so I am used to it, so I am just happy to be out here and have this opportunity and come away and get better, help them win games," Taylor said.
He'll get his chance soon enough—Taylor should start from Day 1.
20. Ravens Signing S Earl Thomas
As I mentioned in the intro, you won't find many of the biggest signings of free agency in terms of contract size. This isn't to say they were unwise—only that there were better values had elsewhere.
But in at least one case, a fat contract was among this year's best moves—even if it was a move made out of necessity.
The Baltimore Ravens were slapped around quite a bit on defense in free agency this year. The team's two best edge-rushers (Terrell Suggs and Za'Darius Smith) and top inside linebacker (C.J. Mosley) all left. Veteran safety Eric Weddle (who makes another appearance in this piece) was released.
The Ravens badly needed to add an impact player defensively to stop the bleeding. And in that respect, Earl Thomas could be a game-saver in Baltimore.
Yes, two of Thomas' last three seasons were ended by a broken leg. And, at almost $14 million a season, the 29-year-old didn't come cheaply. But when he's healthy, Thomas is arguably the best safety of his generation—a player that Baltimore can build around on defense.
19. 49ers Signing RB Tevin Coleman
If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.
That's what the San Francisco 49ers did at the running back position in free agency. One year after bringing in Jerick McKinnon on a big deal only to see McKinnon tear his ACL without playing a regular-season snap for the team, the Niners signed tailback Tevin Coleman to a two-year deal worth up to $10 million.
It's not just that the 49ers added Coleman, who topped 1,000 total yards for the first time in his career last year with the Atlanta Falcons. It's that as Kyle Posey pointed out at SB Nation, the terms of the contract are very team-friendly.
Coleman gets just $3.6 million in Year 1, with no signing bonus. If the 26-year-old plays like he did a year ago, then the deal is a steal. If he doesn't or gets hurt, the 49ers can simply walk away from the deal without taking on a cent in dead cap money.
This isn't a low-risk signing. It's a no-risk signing.
18. Broncos Drafting QB Drew Lock No. 42 Overall
It's no secret that the Denver Broncos need a long-term solution at the quarterback position. Or that, to date, John Elway hasn't exactly enjoyed great success addressing that need. And while the addition of Joe Flacco might be a short-term upgrade over Case Keenum, it's a marginal one—and one with an expiration date.
There's admittedly no guarantee that Missouri's Drew Lock will be that long-term answer under center Elway has sought for so long. But after the 6'4", 228-pounder fell into the draft's second day, Elway had to pull the trigger.
After all, we're talking about a strong-armed, fairly mobile young passer who many draftniks considered a Round 1 prospect. A quarterback who drew comparisons to Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions. A quarterback that Elway said (via Jon Heath of Broncos Wire) was the team's No. 1 prospect at the position in this class.
If Lock becomes even a capable starter in time, this will go down as one of the best value picks in franchise history.
17. Browns Trading for DL Olivier Vernon
There hasn't been a busier general manager in the NFL in 2019 than John Dorsey of the Cleveland Browns.
And the move that got that frenzy of activity started—the deal that got the hype machine in Cleveland rolling—was the trade with the New York Giants that brought defensive end Olivier Vernon to town in exchange for guard Kevin Zeitler.
Vernon, who had 30 tackles and seven sacks in 11 games last year, told Doug Lesmerises of Cleveland.com that he plans to earn his $15.5 million salary in his new home.
"They know what I bring to the table," he said. "They say you're going to get what you paid for, so they're going to get what you traded for."
It wasn't a cheap add by any stretch, but Zeitler was scheduled to make nearly that much in his own right in 2019 before the Giants restructured his contract.
It makes more sense to pay that kind of cash to an edge-rusher than an interior lineman.
16. Ravens Signing RB Mark Ingram
With Lamar Jackson under center last year, the Baltimore Ravens ran the ball as much as any team in the NFL. No team in the AFC gained more yards on the ground than the 152.6 the Ravens averaged in 2018.
That Baltimore backfield will have a new lead dog in 2019.
Granted, after four straight seasons with over 1,000 total yards and two straight with over a grand on the ground, Mark Ingram's numbers were down in New Orleans last year—645 rushing yards were Ingram's fewest since 2013. He's also going to be 30 in December—past the age when tailbacks historically begin to decline.
But Ingram also averaged a healthy 4.7 yards a carry last year, and the Ravens didn't break the bank to add him—Ingram's deal includes just $6.5 million in guarantees.
A playoff team adding a two-time Pro Bowl tailback on a reasonable contract is an easy signing to like.
15. Patriots Signing OLB Jamie Collins
From a statistical standpoint, Jamie Collins had one of the better seasons of his career in 2018—104 total tackles and four sacks with the Cleveland Browns. However, despite those numbers, Collins was released in the offseason.
Well, never let it be said you can't go home again, because Collins was scooped up by the same New England Patriots team he spent his first four seasons with.
Safety Duron Harmon told reporters (via Zack Cox of NESN) that he's glad to have his former teammate back in the fold. "He’s excited to be back, so that's always good when the excitement is there," Harmon said. "I'm really just looking forward to seeing him out there, seeing him play with us again, building that chemistry, being teammates again and doing everything we can to make sure we got the best defense we can, come the first game."
Frankly, Harmon should be glad. Collins was a Pro Bowler with the Patriots in 2015, and, at 29, there's still plenty of football ahead of him.
It's a low-risk, high-reward signing for the Super Bowl champs.
14. Bears Drafting RB David Montgomery No. 73 Overall
As was mentioned earlier in this countdown, the Chicago Bears traded early-down back Jordan Howard to the Philadelphia Eagles before the NFL draft.
And by "traded," I mean "gave away just to be rid of him."
That left the Bears with a hole to fill in the backfield. Not only did they fill that hole in the third round of the draft, they did so with a back who is a much better fit for Matt Nagy's offense.
And a back who could well wind up leading all rookies in rushing in 2019.
Iowa State's David Montgomery is just as capable (in theory) of grinding out yardage between the tackles as Howard at 5'10" and 222 pounds. But he also possesses a more well-rounded skill set. Lance Zierlein of NFL.com compared Montgomery to the versatile Kareem Hunt of the Cleveland Browns, who paced the NFL in rushing with Kansas City in 2017.
In each of the past two drafts, we've seen a Day 2 back go on to shine as a rookie—Nick Chubb last year and Hunt and Alvin Kamara of the New Orleans Saints back in 2017.
Don't be surprised if Montgomery joins that club this season.
13. Browns Drafting CB Greedy Williams No. 46 Overall
Yep. More John Dorsey.
What can I say? The man had himself an offseason—and this won't be the last time you see him in this piece.
In the leadup to the 2019 draft, more than one site (including CBS Sports) had LSU's Greedy Williams rated as the top cornerback prospect in the class. Jon Ledyard of the Draft Network wrote that, "There is zero doubt in my mind that Greedy Williams has the highest ceiling of any cornerback in the 2019 class, and will probably be the first one off the board as a result."
But Williams wasn't the first corner drafted. Or the fifth. He fell all the way to the Browns at No. 46.
There have been a number of reasons proposed for this side, from Williams' aversion to tackling to a low Wonderlic score. But per ESPN's Mike Sando, one NFL executive thinks Dorsey committed larceny in that spot.
"Getting Greedy Williams without having a first-round pick is a steal for Cleveland," the exec said. "He is long, fast and disruptive and has good ball production."
12. Bills Drafting DT Ed Oliver No. 9 Overall
Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.
The Buffalo Bills had no control over how things played out over the first eight picks of the 2019 NFL draft. All the team could control is making the right pick when their selection rolled around.
Buffalo general manager Brandon Beane did just that—even if all he had to do was take the player who dropped right into his lap.
Houston's former defensive tackle is an undersized, athletic, disruptive force on the inside who some have compared to Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams. ESPN's Matt Bowen compared him to a different Pro Bowl tackle, while calling the Bills the perfect fit for Oliver's skill-set:
"Oliver is a fit in Buffalo's 40 front because we will see his upside as an interior disrupter playing in his natural position as a 3-technique tackle. With Oliver's 6-foot-2, 287-pound frame and rare movement skills, I compared him to Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins leading up to the draft."
11. Colts Signing EDGE Justin Houston
The Indianapolis Colts entered free agency this year with more cap space than any team in the NFL—over $100 million. But rather than go on a spending spree, GM Chris Ballard was very judicious. The team made just two signings of note—one on each side of the ball. Both involved veteran players coming in on short-term deals.
And while the one-year deal for wideout Devin Funchess was OK, the two-year, $24 million pact that the team agreed to with edge-rusher Justin Houston was great.
It's admittedly been a while since the 30 year-old Houston terrorized the NFL to the tune of 22 sacks back in 2014. In each of the past four seasons, Houston has failed to hit double-digit sacks, and he's missed 21 games over that span.
However, Houston hasn't exactly been stuck in mud the past two years, with 18.5 sacks over that span. And Indy's financial commitment after this year isn't significant.
It's a signing the team could more than afford at a position where the Colts (a team with Super Bowl aspirations) could use the help.
10. Eagles Signing LB Zach Brown
It's the early free-agent signings that garner all the headlines. But sometimes it's the lower-dollar deals that come later in the process that make the biggest impact.
That could well be the case with the modest, one-year $3 million contract the Eagles gave linebacker Zach Brown. Prior to an injury-marred 2018 season, Brown had been wildly productive, piling up 127 tackles in 2017 and leading the AFC with 149 stops in Buffalo the year before.
However, per Dave Spadaro of the team's website, PFF was a fan of Brown's game a year ago as well. "Brown graded extremely well during the 2018 season with Washington," he said. "He ended the campaign with an 89.2 overall grade—a grade that was over 13 points higher than his previous career best—which ranked third among all qualifying off-ball linebackers. His overall grade was the result of high-level play in all facets of the game, and he ended the year as one of only three linebackers (Luke Kuechly and Bobby Wagner being the others) to register a run-defense grade, coverage grade and tackling grade above 80.0."
With Jordan Hicks gone, the Eagles could use a repeat of that performance.
9. Bears Signing S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
Not every move included on this list involves a blockbuster trade or a massive free-agent contract. Sometimes it's the quieter moves in free agency that can pay the biggest dividends.
After the Bears watched safety Adrian Amos bolt for Green Bay in free agency, they were left with a hole on the back end. The team filled that hole on the cheap, agreeing to terms with former Green Bay Packers and Washington Redskins safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix on a one-year, $3.5 million deal.
Clinton-Dix piled up 93 total tackles and three interceptions split between Green Bay and Washington last year. Before that he spent three straight years as a 16-game starter for the Packers, including a five-interception season in 2016 that earned him a Pro Bowl nod and a 100-stop campaign the year before.
Clinton-Dix isn't just a capable veteran starter—he's a comparable talent to the departed Amos.
Getting him on the cheap was a steal.
8. Rams Signing S Eric Weddle
Over the past two seasons, the Los Angeles Rams haven't been even a little bit shy about adding big-name veterans—or paying out robust salaries to do so.
In 2019, the Rams were able to do the former without the latter as a replacement for the departed Lamarcus Joyner at safety.
At 34 years old and after 12 seasons in the league, Eric Weddle's not the player he once was. His days of racking up over 100 tackles with the Los Angeles Chargers are gone. But Weddle's still playing at a high level—the six-time Pro Bowler continued to earn that recognition in each of his three years with the Baltimore Ravens, including 2018.
What makes this signing such a good one isn't just that the Rams added a steady veteran presence on the back end—and arguably an upgrade over Joyner. Or that Weddle's an ideal mentor for rookie safety Taylor Rapp.
The Rams did so on a relatively modest two year, $10.5 million deal the team can get out of with minimal penalties after one season.
7. Patriots Trading for DE Michael Bennett
Coming off yet another Super Bowl win, the Patriots were left staring at a number of potential holes in the roster. One of those was the departure of top edge-rusher Trey Flowers, who wound up signing a massive five-year, $90 million deal with the Detroit Lions.
However, before Flowers had even left the building, the Pats had arranged for a replacement—picking up veteran defensive end Michael Bennett from the Philadelphia Eagles for a swap of Day 3 picks.
Granted, at 33 years old, Bennett's a fair bit older than Flowers. But, in notching nine sacks a year ago, Bennett showed he can still get after the quarterback—those nine sacks also happen to be more than Flowers has ever tallied in a season.
It's classic Belichick—picking up an aging veteran on the cheap. More than once in the past, said veteran has gone on to have a resurgent year in his first season in New England.
Don't be surprised if Bennett does so in 2019.
6. Redskins Drafting Dwayne Haskins No. 15 Overall
Heading into the 2019 NFL draft, it was no secret that the Washington Redskins had quarterback problems. The future of veteran Alex Smith is murky at best after last year's horrific leg injury. The team acquired Case Keenum in free agency, but after a mediocre 2018 in Denver, Keenum is a short-term stopgap option at best.
However, with the 15th overall pick in the draft, general consensus expected that the Redskins would need to trade up if they wanted to land a high-end quarterback.
As it happened, one slid right into their laps.
As Herbie Toepe wrote for NFL.com, when new Redskins safety Landon Collins saw that Washington had landed Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins, he was enthused to say the least.
"I thought he was going to the Giants, honestly," Collins said on the latest RapSheet + Friends podcast. "That's who I thought they were going to get, that's who I thought they needed, and they decided to go elsewhere. When I saw we picked him up, I was like, 'We just stole the best quarterback.'"
That enthusiasm isn't misplaced.
5. Steelers Drafting ILB Devin Bush No. 10 Overall
Much of the early offseason buzz in Pittsburgh centered around the implosion of the "Killer Bs." But in tailback James Conner and wideout Juju Smith-Schuster, the Steelers already had replacements for Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown.
What the Steelers didn't have—and hadn't had since Ryan Shazier's tragic injury—was an inside linebacker with the range required in today's pass-happy NFL.
That problem appears to have been solved with the addition of Michigan's Devin Bush, who the Steelers traded up 10 spots to select at No. 10 in the 2019 draft. Steelers GM Kevin Colbert (via the team's website) lauded Bush's ability to move sideline-to-sideline.
"As an inside linebacker, his game is really predicated on what is needed to play the position in modern-day NFL football," Colbert said. "He can not only play the run, he's also got exceptional coverage abilities."
The trade cost the Steelers their second-rounder in 2019 and third-rounder in 2020, but Colbert was able to avoid giving up an extra pick in Round 1.
It was a shrewd move.
4. Jaguars Signing QB Nick Foles
Two years ago, the Jacksonville Jaguars made it all the way to the AFC Championship. Last year, however, the Jags imploded, winning just five games.
Now, there was more than one reason for this free-fall, but there's no denying that quarterback Blake Bortles was a liability—so much so that he was benched in-season for Cody Kessler.
From the moment the offseason began and it became clear that Nick Foles was going to reach free agency, rumors ran rampant that the Jaguars were going to make a serious run at the 30-year-old, who led the Philadelphia Eagles on two playoff runs and was named the MVP of Super Bowl LII.
Foles isn't a guaranteed answer to all of Jacksonville's problems, nor is his arrival a sure-fire ticket back to the playoffs.
But he's assuredly an upgrade over Bortles, and the four-year, $88 million deal he signed with the Jaguars is relatively modest by today's standards at the position.
3. Dolphins Trading for QB Josh Rosen
The Miami Dolphins are in the early stages of a ground-up rebuild. There were reports earlier in the offseason that Miami's plan for 2019 is a simple one: punt on the season in the hopes of landing an early pick in a deep 2020 quarterback class.
That could still be the plan, but the Dolphins may have already addressed the quarterback position—for pennies on the dollar.
When the Arizona Cardinals drafted Kyler Murray first overall in April, that immediately made second-year quarterback Josh Rosen eminently expendable. The Dolphins took advantage of the situation, acquiring Rosen for a late-second rounder and a 2020 fifth-rounder.
Rosen struggled mightily as a rookie on an awful Cardinals team in 2018. But the former UCLA standout was drafted 10th overall in 2018 for a reason.
The Dolphins were able to acquire a potential franchise quarterback on his rookie contract without giving up even a top-50 pick.
That's too good a deal to pass up.
2. Raiders Trading for WR Antonio Brown
The Oakland Raiders have been the butts of more than a few jokes in recent years, and, to be fair, Mike Mayock's first offseason as general manager wasn't a flawless one. But at least one of Mayock and Jon Gruden's moves was a home run.
After his relationship with the Pittsburgh Steelers rapidly deteriorated (and by "rapidly deteriorated" I mean completely fell apart), the Steelers finally got rid of disgruntled wide receiver Antonio Brown. They shipped him cross-country to the Raiders for a third-round pick and a fifth-round pick.
That's not much of a return for a player who averaged 114 catches for 1,524 yards and 11 touchdowns over the past six seasons, earning first-team All-Pro honors four times.
Will Brown post those sorts of gaudy numbers in his new home? That's unknown—but given what the Raiders gave up to land him, it's absolutely worth finding out.
1. Browns Trading for WR Odell Beckham
Cleveland Browns general manager John Dorsey must be a fan of the Madden video game series—he spent most of the 2019 offseason making the Cleveland roster look like a 13-year-old's virtual dream team.
The crowning achievement from that flurry of activity is the deal that brought in wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
It's not just that the Browns acquired arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL in the prime of his career. It's what the Browns gave up to get him—the 17th overall pick (which would up being Clemson defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence), a third-round pick (Old Dominion edge-rusher Oshane Ximines) and safety Jabrill Peppers, a first-round pick in 2016 who hasn't lived up to that draft pedigree.
There isn't a general manager in the league who wouldn't make that deal 10 times out of 10. Okay, maybe one.
NFL games aren't won on paper, but Dorsey has assembled a very formidable-looking offense in Cleveland. And Beckham is its crown jewel.