The Best Move Every NFL Team Made This Offseason
General managers aim to improve their rosters over the offseason with free-agent signings, trades and a promising draft class. Oftentimes, we can pinpoint the decisions that will translate to immediate production or better results in the short term.
Typically, first-round picks, costly investments and shrewd hires provide a swift return.
Last year, the Cleveland Browns selected quarterback Baker Mayfield with the No. 1 overall pick, and he's injected a palpable swagger into the franchise. The Chicago Bears brought in Matt Nagy to replace John Fox, and the new lead skipper molded a roster with several new pieces into a division winner. In his first year with the Indianapolis Colts, defensive lineman Denico Autry led the team in sacks (nine).
While some of the best offseason moves seem obvious, others may surprise you. Perhaps a Day 2 pick possesses star quality or a coaching decision elevates underperforming talent on the roster.
Let's take a look at an impactful choice for each team and why those particular moves stand out above the rest.
Arizona Cardinals: Drafting QB Kyler Murray
The Arizona Cardinals kept everyone guessing on how they'd handle the quarterback position. Team brass could've continued to develop Josh Rosen but chose Kyler Murray with the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft.
Ultimately, the Cardinals made the right decision.
Last year, Arizona moved up to the 10th spot to select Rosen, but that doesn't mean he was their ideal choice. Three signal-callers came off the board before him. Perhaps the Cardinals ranked Mayfield, Sam Darnold or Josh Allen higher on the draft board.
In April, the Cardinals didn't have to wait their turn or execute a trade to land Murray. New head coach Kliff Kingsbury's affinity for him suggests a strong level of commitment as opposed to an inherited quarterback from the last regime.
The head coach-quarterback marriage can make or break a franchise. Murray will have the full support from his lead skipper as they both jump into pro-level competition in 2019.
Atlanta Falcons: Not Hiring a Defensive Coordinator
There are times when head coaches should use their background expertise to improve production, and Dan Quinn falls into that category. After relieving defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel of his position, Quinn will handle play-calling duties to start the 2019 season.
In Week 13 of the 2016 campaign, Quinn took over defensive coordinator responsibilities, and the Atlanta Falcons held three of their last four opponents to 16 points or fewer. During the postseason of that term, the unit limited the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers to 20 and 21 points, respectively.
Keep in mind that Quinn called plays for the Seahawks in 2013 and 2014; those groups gave up the fewest yards and points.
The Falcons defense listed 28th in total yards and 25th in scoring last year. Although injuries to middle linebacker Deion Jones and safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen factored into the group's subpar performances, Quinn pinpointed two areas that needed improvement, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's D. Orlando Ledbetter.
"Quinn was not happy with the lack of turnovers and the defense's inability to stop the run," Ledbetter wrote.
In 2018, the Falcons ranked 25th against the run and forced 19 takeaways (20th).
For the upcoming season, Quinn should have Jones, Neal and Allen back on the field, and his track record indicates the Falcons will field a stingier unit. If he's able to put his players in position to force turnovers, Atlanta should contend for another division title.
Baltimore Ravens: Signing S Earl Thomas
The Baltimore Ravens lost notable names in the front seven, including linebacker C.J. Mosley and edge-rushers Terrell Suggs and Za'Darius Smith. On the flip side, the front office strengthened the secondary, signing Earl Thomas.
In 2018, the Ravens defense ranked second in scoring and allowed the fewest yards but forced just 17 turnovers (tied for 22nd). Thomas' ball-hawking tendencies can boost the latter statistical category. Since his 2010 rookie campaign, he's snagged 28 interceptions—third-most leaguewide to date.
Thomas has missed 19 contests over the last three seasons because of two broken legs and a hamstring injury, but he's a playmaker when healthy. The three-time All-Pro registered three interceptions and five pass breakups in four games last year.
The Ravens lost key components to the pass rush, but the defense can disrupt the aerial attack after the throw. Thomas' elite coverage skills should pay dividends for this group.
Buffalo Bills: Drafting DT Ed Oliver
The Buffalo Bills lost a franchise icon in defensive tackle Kyle Williams. He retired after 13 seasons, but the front office may have added a future Pro Bowler to fill his position during the draft.
The Bills selected interior tackle Ed Oliver with the ninth overall pick in this year's draft. At Houston, he faced constant double-teams in two-gap assignments but logged 53 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks through three terms.
Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier took note of Oliver's movement out of his stance during organized team activities, per Nate Mendelson and Kelly Baker of the team's official website.
"You see his quickness, you see his burst," Frazier said. "As he continues to get a better grasp on what we're asking him to do on defense, I think you'll see more of his athleticism as well."
At 281 pounds, Oliver ran a 4.73-second 40-yard dash at his pro day with 1.63 splits, per ESPN.com's Sam Kahn Jr. On an even-man front, he could see one-on-one situations until offensive linemen respect his ability to apply constant pressure. The Bills pass rush needed a boost after finishing the 2018 campaign with 36 sacks (26th leaguewide).
Carolina Panthers: Drafting DE Brian Burns
Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, who's going to continue calling plays for the defense, per Jourdan Rodrigue formerly of the Charlotte Observer, will use more 3-4 looks in the upcoming season. Odd-man fronts require an athletic playmaker off the edge, someone capable of reaching the quarterback and dropping into coverage.
Through OTAs, the Panthers saw Brian Burns showcase his quickness and ability to impact the passing attack in multiple ways, per Max Henson of the team's official website.
"... Burns was active throughout, making his way to the quarterback with regularity. And when he wasn't, Burns was impacting the action by getting into the throwing lane. He showed off a massive vertical leap to give quarterback Kyle Allen second thoughts. On another occasion, Burns used his length to swat down a pass from quarterback Taylor Heinicke."
At Florida State, Burns registered 38.5 tackles for loss, 23 sacks, seven pass breakups and seven forced fumbles. He played at 235 pounds and bulked up to 249 before the NFL Scouting Combine. The former Seminole recorded a 4.53-second 40-yard dash time, 36" vertical jump and 10'9" broad jump.
At the moment, Burns' weight gain hasn't hindered his movement. He's an ideal fit for a defense prepared to use varied fronts to rattle offenses.
Chicago Bears: Signing S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
The Chicago Bears lost two vital components to their top-scoring defense from last year. Former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio accepted a head-coaching position with the Denver Broncos, and safety Adrian Amos signed with the Packers.
Chuck Pagano served the defensive coordinator role for one year in Baltimore during the 2011 term. As a head coach, his defenses ranked 19th or worse in points allowed for five out of six seasons. He's a wild-card addition in the group's transition.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has shown a consistency in his coverage skills through five seasons, registering
14 career interceptions. The 26-year-old didn't snag a pick through nine appearances with the Washington Redskins, but his midseason move from Green Bay to the nation's capital may have factored into a lack of impact plays.
Clinton-Dix will have an entire offseason to learn Pagano's scheme. Looking at his track record of reading quarterbacks in the deep safety position, he's a steal on a one-year, $3 million contract. In 2018, the Bears registered the most takeaways (36). They have a good chance to remain atop the category with another ball-hawking safety alongside Eddie Jackson.
Cincinnati Bengals: Firing HC Marvin Lewis
NFL teams shouldn't justify turnover for the sake of change. Marvin Lewis held the Cincinnati Bengals' head-coaching position for 16 seasons, but the team didn't win a playoff game in seven trips to the postseason. After three losing campaigns, the franchise will move into a new era under lead skipper Zac Taylor.
Taylor spent the 2017 and 2018 seasons on Sean McVay's staff in Los Angeles as a wide receivers and quarterbacks coach. According to wideout A.J. Green, the 36-year-old brought new energy to spring practices, per Geoff Hobson of the team's official website.
"Everything is so fast-paced," Green said. "We've got a lot of plays in and there's no standing around. Boom. Boom. Boom. Ones (first team) out, twos, ones right back in. I like it. The (tempo) is the biggest difference."
In Hobson's report, Green also commented on the offensive flow. "The sky's the limit for this offense," Green said. "I feel like this offense mirrors a lot when we had Jay. A lot of deep shots and a lot of stuff like that. It could be big. It could be a big year."
Last season, Green missed seven games because of a toe injury, and quarterback Andy Dalton sat out the final five contests with torn ligaments in his thumb. The tandem could experience a resurgence under a new regime, especially with an uptempo pace. Typically, more plays equate to increased production.
Also, Taylor watched do-it-all running back Todd Gurley handle a heavy workload in Los Angeles. He's led the league in yards from scrimmage since 2017 (3,924). The Bengals have a rising star in tailback Joe Mixon, who's capable of handling a similar volume of touches.
If the Bengals plan to push the pace under Taylor, the offense has the assets to put up points with Green, Tyler Boyd and Mixon at the skill positions.
Cleveland Browns: Promoting Freddie Kitchens to HC
Last year, after Week 8, the Cleveland Browns fired former head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley. The departures allowed Gregg Williams and Freddie Kitchens to take over their respective roles.
After the changes, the Browns showed notable improvements, going 5-3 in the second half of their season. In Week 10, Kitchens guided the offense to its highest point total (28) in regulation and then topped that number with 35 on the scoreboard against the Bengals for the following game.
Baker Mayfield flourished with Kitchens in his ear last year. He threw 19 touchdown passes and eight interceptions while completing 68.44 percent of his passes after the coaching turnover.
In today's league, it's important to marry a quarterback with a play-caller who's going optimize the passer's talent. Instead of hiring a new lead skipper and potentially slowing down Mayfield's progress, the Browns promoted Kitchens to maintain offensive continuity.
According to NFL Network's Michael Silver, offensive coordinator Todd Monken has hit some early bumps, which puts Kitchens in position for more input on offense.
For Monken, that's bad news, but the Browns offense remains in good hands with Kitchens calling the shots.
Dallas Cowboys: Trading for DE Robert Quinn
Dallas Cowboys defensive end Demarcus Lawrence will open training camp on the physically unable to perform list because of offseason shoulder surgery. Although the team believes he'll suit up for Week 1 of the regular season, the two-time Pro Bowler's recovery timetable remains unclear.
In case Lawrence needs more time to recuperate, the Cowboys will have a serviceable veteran pass-rusher in Robert Quinn. The front office acquired him from the Miami Dolphins in exchange for a 2020 sixth-rounder.
Over the last two seasons, Quinn logged 15 sacks and 18 tackles for loss while only missing one game. Going into his age-29 term, he can still disrupt offenses in the backfield using his power and quickness at the line of scrimmage.
The Cowboys don't have a ball hawk in the secondary, so their defensive unit must apply pocket pressure to thwart passing attacks. Once Lawrence returns, Dallas will have a strong duo on the ends.
`Denver Broncos: Drafting LG Dalton Risner
President of football operations and general manager John Elway continues to search for a consistent starter at quarterback, acquiring Joe Flacco via trade and selecting Drew Lock in the second round. He also strengthened last year's ground attack, which tied the Los Angeles Rams for third in yards per carry (4.9).
Perhaps Flacco does just enough to keep the Broncos' passing attack in the middle of the pack, and Lock may need a couple of years in a backup role before taking the field. If so, the Broncos can rely on their ground attack to control ballgames.
Denver selected offensive lineman Dalton Risner in the second round of this year's draft. He's lined up at left guard with the starters through the spring, which shifted Ronald Leary to the opposite side—a welcome sight for the seven-year veteran, per the Denver Post's Ryan O'Halloran.
"I feel a lot more comfortable at right," Leary said. "I had a great season at right my first season here. Everything’s good."
Risner joins a five-man group that ranked fifth in adjusted line yards (4.75) and 11th in pass protection last season, per Football Outsiders.
Risner brought a mean streak to the field at Kansas State, lining up at center and right tackle, but he's also technically sound with his hand usage.
At 6'5", 312 pounds, Risner can use his lower-body strength to maintain a strong anchor and drive interior tackles backward, so it's not a surprise to see him at left guard in Denver.
Running back Phillip Lindsay emerged as an undrafted gem last year, finishing ninth in rushing yards (1,037). He and Royce Freeman have another talented offensive lineman up front to clear rushing lanes. The Broncos could field a top-five ground attack that opens up opportunities for the wide receivers downfield.
Detroit Lions: Signing RB C.J. Anderson
For the first time with quarterback Matthew Stafford under center, the Detroit Lions could field a balanced offense. Since the signal-caller took over the starting job, this club hasn't fielded a ground attack that ranked higher than 17th in yards.
New play-caller Darrell Bevell talked about a commitment to a more brute offensive style, per Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
"We'll always be about running the football," Bevell said. "We want to be a tough, hard-nosed, physical football team. We want to be able to exert our will on our opponents."
The Lions didn't just talk about a change in their offensive approach; the front office acquired a component to execute the plan. Running back C.J. Anderson will provide much-needed physicality to the run game.
Anderson logged 89 carries for 488 yards and four touchdowns between Week 15 and Super Bowl LIII. At 5'8", 225 pounds, he's a bigger body able to handle a high volume of rush attempts. Head coach Matt Patricia suggested Kerryon Johnson may not handle a heavy rushing workload, per Birkett.
"Regardless of Kerryon, I think it's a position-specific thing where those guys, they take a lot of hits," Patricia said. "They're in those situations a lot where their bodies are taking some pounding so you want to be conscious of how many plays they're getting, especially early on in the year."
As a thumper on early downs, Anderson's carries should play a huge role in balancing the Lions offense—his physical nature could force a safety to step into the box. As a result, the wide receivers may see less traffic in the passing lanes.
Green Bay Packers: Signing LB Za'Darius Smith
The Packers revamped their outside linebacker unit, signing Preston Smith and Za'Darius Smith in March. Although the former can rush the passer and drop into coverage, the latter could line up on two levels of the defense.
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine spoke about the difference between the Smiths during a media press conference. "Preston has dropped more into coverage and can be more—I don't want to use the word 'finesse,' but Za'Darius is more of a power-type rusher and also has the flexibility," he said. "You can move him around."
At 6'4", 272 pounds, Za'Darius Smith can use raw power to collapse the pocket off the edge or beat his assignment to take down ball-carriers for stops. In 2018, he tied Matt Judon for second-most tackles for loss (10) with the Ravens.
Last season, the Packers ranked 22nd in run defense and allowed 100-plus rushing yards in 11 out of 16 outings. Whether he's positioned on the edge or at the line of scrimmage in an odd-man front, Smith poses a major threat in run and passing situations.
Houston Texans: Signing CB Bradley Roby
The Houston Texans secondary will look different in the upcoming season. The front office allowed cornerback Kareem Jackson and safety Tyrann Mathieu to test the free-agent market. The two defensive backs signed with Denver and the Kansas City Chiefs, respectively.
The Texans acquired four notable veterans and a rookie second-rounder to compensate for the losses on the back end of the defense. Bradley Roby, Tashaun Gipson, Jahleel Addae, Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Lonnie Johnson Jr. will join the unit.
Among the acquisitions, Roby stands out because of his versatility. He can line up on the inside or split out wide in coverage. Although the 27-year-old experienced his ups and downs in Denver as a full-time starter last year, the five-year veteran has 60 career pass breakups.
The Texans will field 35-year-old Johnathan Joseph on one side of the secondary, and Aaron Colvin or Roby will likely start on the opposite end. The latter has more experience in a bigger role with the ability to strengthen a pass defense that ranked 28th in yards allowed last season.
Roby missed OTAs with a soft-tissue injury, but he'll have plenty of time to acclimate himself to Romeo Crennel's defense this summer.
Indianapolis Colts: Signing DE/LB Justin Houston
Although the Indianapolis Colts defense surrendered the third-fewest touchdowns through the air (21), the group needs help clamping down on opposing passing attacks.
The Colts ranked 16th in passing yards allowed and tied the Los Angeles Chargers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers for 19th in sacks (38) last season. Justin Houston can help this unit in both categories. As shown during the last campaign, he's an effective pass-rusher, logging nine sacks with the Chiefs.
Assuming Houston continues to bring pressure up front, he's going to force more incomplete passes because of hurried or errant throws. Defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus can also feel comfortable with him in shallow coverage. The 30-year-old has 32 pass breakups in eight seasons.
In 2018, the Colts defense ranked 10th in scoring and 11th for yards allowed. With Houston, an established pass-rusher on the edge, the group should put together another strong campaign. That would take some pressure off of quarterback Andrew Luck and the offense.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Drafting DE Josh Allen
The Jacksonville Jaguars have a solid pass-rushing tandem featuring Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue, but the latter wants a new deal.
Ngakoue skipped OTAs and mandatory minicamp to induce contract negotiations. The Jaguars may come to an agreement on an extension with the three-year defensive end, but they have a big investment in rookie first-rounder Josh Allen, which gives them the option to move forward with a cheaper alternative.
At Kentucky, Josh Allen played outside linebacker, but defensive coordinator Todd Wash views him as a defensive end in his 4-3 scheme, per ESPN.com's Michael DiRocco.
"We are a 4-3," Wash said. "That is what we always have been. As long as I'm here, that's what we will be. ... Josh Allen was drafted to be a defensive end."
Initially, based solely on the best-player-available approach, Allen seemed like the ideal choice with the seventh overall pick. Now, he also offers the Jaguars a backup plan at defensive end in case Ngakoue decides to play hardball with the organization.
Wash sounds comfortable with Allen playing with his hand in the dirt on the front line. He logged 31.5 sacks through four collegiate terms. If the former Wildcat comes close to that level of production in the pros, the Jaguars will maintain their relentless pass rush with or without Ngakoue on the field.
Kansas City Chiefs: Trading for DE Frank Clark
In 2018, the Chiefs defense struggled to slow its opponents, ranking 24th in scoring and 31st in yards allowed. On the other hand, former defensive coordinator Bob Sutton dialed up constant pocket pressure; the club tied the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most sacks leaguewide (52).
The Chiefs parted ways with key components to their pass rush, trading Dee Ford to the San Francisco 49ers and releasing Justin Houston; they combined for 22 sacks last season. General manager Brett Veach replenished the playmaking ability on the edge, acquiring Frank Clark from the Seahawks.
Last year, Clark finished with a career high in sacks (13). If the Chiefs come to terms with defensive tackle Chris Jones, the defense should have one of the best inside-outside pass-rushing tandems with him and their new acquisition at defensive end.
Clark will likely demand some double-teams, which frees up space for his teammates on the interior or linebackers in blitz packages. The Chiefs may not finish with the most sacks this year, but defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo should field a viable pass rush.
Los Angeles Chargers: Drafting DT Jerry Tillery
Last year, defensive coordinator Gus Bradley implemented creativity into the game plan to generate pocket pressure. Defensive end Joey Bosa missed nine contests because of a foot injury, which dealt a significant blow to the pass rush.
On the defensive line, Isaac Rochell, Darius Philon and Damion Square combined for 12 sacks in rotational roles; none of them played more 59 percent of defensive snaps in 2018.
Because of Bosa's injury history, he's missed 13 contests in three seasons; the Chargers need a consistent penetrator on the interior. Jerry Tillery potentially fills that void. He registered eight sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss during his senior term at Notre Dame while dealing with a torn labrum.
Tillery should provide toughness with a mix of power and athleticism to beat his assignments in one-on-one situations. Assuming he's ready to take the field Week 1, the Chargers have a defender who can stay on the field for all three downs and develop into a solid component for a top-notch defensive line.
Los Angeles Rams: Drafting RB Darrell Henderson
Rams running back Todd Gurley talked about his knee issue during a media press conference following a mandatory minicamp session. "I had bigger problems to worry about coming out of college," he said. "This is small."
As a junior at Georgia, Gurley tore his ACL before going into the 2015 draft. He missed three games during his rookie term. Even though the 24-year-old doesn't seem worried about a knee ailment that limited his workload at the end of the last campaign, the Rams brought in reinforcements at running back.
General manager Les Snead matched an offer from the Lions for tailback Malcolm Brown and selected running back Darrell Henderson in the third round of this year's draft. The rookie racked up 4,303 yards from scrimmage and 44 total touchdowns at Memphis.
Henderson didn't garner comparable buzz to Gurley coming out of college, but he's also a dual threat out of the backfield with high upside. The 5'8", 208-pound running back can absorb and run through contact for huge gains.
We won't know what to expect from Gurley until he takes the field for Week 1, but the Rams have a solid backup in case their workhorse sees a significant reduction in touches. As an early-round draft pick, Henderson could push for a major role in the upcoming season, maintaining the team's offensive balance.
Miami Dolphins: Trading for QB Josh Rosen
We have no idea if Rosen will eventually develop into a franchise quarterback, but he's a high-upside option as the No. 10 overall pick from the 2018 draft.
In March, the Dolphins signed Ryan Fitzpatrick. During Day 2 of this year's draft, the front office sent a second-round pick and a 2020 fifth-rounder to the Cardinals for Rosen. The two signal-callers will battle through the summer for the starting spot.
If Rosen doesn't show promise or Fitzpatrick plays a majority of the 2019 campaign, Miami would likely hold a high draft pick next offseason. As a primary starter under center for five clubs, Fitzpatrick hasn't led his team to a playoff appearance.
While this season could take a turn for the worse quickly, the coaching staff can fully assess Rosen's talent. He went through a rough rookie term in Arizona behind an injury-riddled and porous offensive line that ranked 26th in pass protection, per Football Outsiders.
Midway through the 2018 season, the Cardinals fired Rosen's offensive coordinator, Mike McCoy. At 35 years old, Larry Fitzgerald listed as the team's top wide receiver on the depth chart, averaging just 10.6 yards per catch.
With a second chance, Rosen may prove he's a starting-caliber asset in this league. If so, the Dolphins would have their future at quarterback without having to go through a dreadful term for a high selection in the 2020 draft.
Minnesota Vikings: Drafting OL Garrett Bradbury
Last year, the Minnesota Vikings ground attack ranked 30th in yards. The offense listed 27th in rush attempts, and running back Dalvin Cook missed five games because of a hamstring injury, but the offensive line needs a stronger push in the trenches.
According to Football Outsiders, the Vikings ranked 23rd in adjusted line yards (4.09), well below average for front five groups around the league (4.36).
Minnesota's commitment to the ground attack, Cook's health and the addition of rookie running back Alexander Mattison won't equate to much with an underperforming offensive line.
The Vikings selected Garrett Bradbury with the 18th overall pick in this year's draft. He moves well in space and sticks to his blocks. On top of that, his presence allows Pat Elflein to play left guard.
Elflein spent most of his time at right guard during his tenure at Ohio State, but he can flip to the other side because of Josh Kline's ability to play on the left. The former Buckeye lined up at the pivot for one season but struggled to open running lanes.
Bradbury has collegiate experience at guard, but he started in the pivot through his junior and senior terms. The North Carolina State product earned the 2018 Dave Rimington Trophy as the top center in this year's class.
Bradbury should have a better start to his career than Elflein at center, and the latter could flourish at guard. As a result, the Vikings may field a much-improved offensive line in 2019.
New England Patriots: Trading for DE Michael Bennett
In 2018, the New England Patriots tied with the New York Giants for 30th in sacks. Earlier in the season, the non-existent pocket pressure allowed quarterbacks to pick apart the secondary. The pass defense ranked 22nd in yards allowed and surrendered 29 touchdowns for the year.
Although the Patriots tightened up their defense down the stretch and held the Rams to three points in Super Bowl LIII, the front office chose to strengthen the pass rush, acquiring Michael Bennett from the Philadelphia Eagles.
Bennett goes into his age-34 term, but he's still performing at a high level, registering nine sacks last season. Defensive end Trey Flowers led the Patriots in sacks with 7.5 during the last campaign, but he signed a five-year deal with the Lions this offseason.
In need of defenders capable of winning one-on-one battles off the edge, the Patriots gave up a 2020 fifth-round pick for a 2020 seventh-rounder and Bennett, who's equipped to elevate a weak area on the front line.
New Orleans Saints: Signing TE Jared Cook
Wide receiver Michael Thomas and running back Alvin Kamara accounted for more than half of the team's receptions and yards last season.
Quarterback Drew Brees didn't have a viable No. 2 wideout because of Ted Ginn Jr.'s knee injury, which cost him 11 contests. Tight end Ben Watson led his positional group in pass-catching categories with 35 receptions for 400 yards and two touchdowns; he only lined up for 48.2 percent of the offensive snaps.
The Saints signed a high-end pass-catching tight end off the free-agent market, inking Jared Cook to a two-year deal. He's coming off his first Pro Bowl season; the 32-year-old led the Oakland Raiders in receiving yards (896) and touchdowns (six) last year.
Cook converted 67.3 percent of his targets into receptions with quarterback Derek Carr under center. In the coming season, he'll pair with the most accurate signal-caller over the last two campaigns in Brees. The veteran tight end should take some pressure off of Thomas and Kamara in the passing game.
New York Giants: Drafting CB DeAndre Baker
The Giants moved up to the 30th overall spot to select DeAndre Baker—the first cornerback picked in this year's draft. Big Blue doesn't have a clear-cut starter opposite Janoris Jenkins, so he should see the field right away.
Like most rookies projected to start early, Baker will sink or swim playing with the first unit, but we should place our bets on the latter. He doesn't flash world-class foot speed, clocking a 4.52-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, but the Georgia product shows great instincts with the football in the air.
Head coach Pat Shurmur highlighted Baker's ability to combat pass-catchers at the line of scrimmage as a strength in his physical play style, per Jared Schwartz of the New York Post.
"He is very competitive, he's very tough," Shurmur said. "The corners are at a little bit of a disadvantage this time of year because there is no bump-and-run. And part of his charm was his ability to get up and crawl up [to] a receiver and bump him. We even think we're going to see more good stuff once training camp starts."
Baker registered 23 pass breakups and seven interceptions through three terms at Georgia. He's subtle as opposed to fast on foot but knows how to time his jump for a tipped ball. The former Bulldog also takes the field with confidence that will allow him to quickly forget unfavorable moments in coverage.
Baker possesses shutdown cornerback qualities that should help him flourish at the pro level.
New York Jets: Signing RB Le'Veon Bell
Running back Le'Veon Bell will likely become the Jets' best offensive weapon. He can handle a high volume of carries, averaging 19.8 per game for his career. The two-time All-Pro also recorded 75 or more catches in three out of his five active seasons.
Head coach Adam Gase talked about how Bell can confuse defenses with his versatility, per NJ.com's Matt Stypulkoski.
"The defense isn't sure if he's going to be in the gun, offset, strong, weak," Gase said. "Is he going to be under center? Is he going to be split out wide? Is he going to be the single receiver? Is he going to be the empty? Is he going to be in the slot? There's five different spots he can be in if we went in empty."
Gase will have the creative freedom to mastermind complex schemes for Bell—his reliable hands and patient running style should spawn plenty of ideas. Those traits should also benefit quarterback Sam Darnold, who's entering his second season. He'll have a safe target in the short passing game capable of neutralizing an aggressive pass rush.
Despite a report from the New York Daily News' Manish Mehta about Gase's unwillingness to pay a running back top dollar, Bell should be worth every cent of his four-year, $52.5 million contract. He's a strong candidate to lead the league in yards from scrimmage in 2019.
Oakland Raiders: Hiring GM Mike Mayock
Before we fawn over wideout Antonio Brown, who's the Raiders' best roster acquisition, let's talk about how the trade for him materialized between Oakland and Pittsburgh.
The Raiders fired Reggie McKenzie and went outside the box to fill the general manager role, hiring Mike Mayock—a draft analyst from NFL Network. Despite his inexperience in a front-office position, he had major input in landing Brown.
According to Brown's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, Mayock handled negotiations like an expert, per ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez.
"He did a good job," Rosenhaus said. "You guys would have thought he was a veteran general manager. This is my 31st year; you never would have known that this was his first year as a GM. He was very sharp and he was very professional, and it was good working with him. He actually worked on Antonio's deal with me."
Brown didn't just request a trade from Pittsburgh; he wanted to become the highest-paid wideout in the league at the time. After a deal with the Bills fell apart, Mayock jumped into action and acquired arguably the best wide receiver in the game for a third- and a fifth-round pick.
In an interview with Pro Football Talk's Peter King, Mayock talked about his persistence while coming to terms on a deal on two fronts:
"So Drew and I negotiated on Friday [March 8], but we were apart. It was not getting done. Actually, I went to bed Friday night and the deal was off the table. Our trade with Pittsburgh was contingent on us reaching a deal with Drew for Antonio, but that was very much in doubt last Friday night. … But what I knew was AB wanted to play for Jon Gruden. Drew and I were willing to keep chipping away.”
Mayock didn't budge on his compensation package and executed a trade that should change the Raiders offense. Derek Carr hasn't played with a wide receiver on Brown's level, a four-time All-Pro who's led the league in yards twice.
Brown will give Raiders fans a lot to cheer about in the coming season. Nonetheless, Mayock's ability to strike a deal with delicate parameters makes that scenario possible.
Philadelphia Eagles: Trading for RB Jordan Howard
Regardless of who started under center, the Eagles didn't have an issue moving the ball through the air, ranking seventh in yards. As wide receiver DeSean Jackson becomes the team's top deep threat, Jordan Howard should provide balance on offense.
The Eagles acquired Howard and sent a 2020 sixth-round pick to the Bears. He hit career lows in rushing yardage (935) and yards per carry (3.7) last year under Matt Nagy. Still, he's a physical ball-carrier capable of ripping off three to four yards per rush attempt on early downs.
According to running backs coach Duce Staley, Howard has displayed his pass-catching ability during the spring, per Philly Voice's Matt Mullin.
"He came out and has been catching the ball well. And, of course, once again not to be redundant, but in order to catch the ball well, you've got to know exactly what you're doing," Staley said. "He knows about the routs, he knows about the protections, and he's going out there and he's snagging the ball up."
Staley talked about Jordan's ball-carrying skills as well. "…I see a guy who can impose his will," he said. "I see a guy who can make a guy miss."
Last season, Philadelphia's ground attack finished 28th with only 12 rushing touchdowns. Even in a down year, Howard scored nine times as a ball-carrier and would have led the Eagles running backs in yards.
Howard will likely join a committee with rookie second-rounder Miles Sanders and Corey Clement, but the three-year veteran should handle a sizable workload because of his ability to absorb hits and keep his legs moving after contact.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Moving Up to Draft LB Devin Bush
When linebacker Ryan Shazier went down with a spinal injury in December of the 2017 campaign, the Steelers lost an athletic defender who can disrupt spread offenses. He logged seven interceptions and 25 pass breakups in 46 contests.
General manager Kevin Colbert traded up to the 10th spot to select Devin Bush in this year's draft. He moves fluidly in space and shows natural football instincts when reaching his spots for stops. The Michigan product recorded 85 solo tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, 11 pass breakups and an interception over the last two terms on the collegiate level.
While it's unfair to expect Bush to replicate Shazier's skill set in totality, the Steelers have an athletic inside linebacker who patrols the length of the field with a high football IQ.
T.J. Watt seemed impressed with the rookie first-rounder, per ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler. "He's taken on a good role in knowing all the plays and being able to call some plays for us," the Steelers outside linebacker said.
Like all rookies, Bush will go through a learning process, but he comes into the league with high potential. The former Wolverine should appear all over the field as a playmaker in the upcoming season.
San Francisco 49ers: Trading for DE Dee Ford
The San Francisco 49ers hope to see defensive end Nick Bosa, this year's No. 2 overall pick, on the field for training camp after he suffered a Grade 1 hamstring strain during OTAs. The rookie's injury brought some concern because he missed all but three games last year at Ohio State with a core-muscle injury, which required surgery.
Because of his injury, Bosa's body may need time to adjust to the demands of the professional game. Fortunately for the 49ers, Ford should emerge as an immediate game-changer on the defensive line. He's coming off his best season with the most pressures among edge-rushers (84), per Pro Football Focus.
In defensive coordinator Robert Saleh's Wide Nine defense, we can expect Ford to use his quickness off the edge to collapse the pocket. Right tackle Mike McGlinchey put the five-year veteran's physical presence into words after they squared off during an OTA session, per NBCS Bay Area's Jennifer Lee Chan.
"Dee is everything he's advertised as," McGlinchey said. "He's in the elite class in his get-off and the ability to get into people and taking control of blocks. I felt that for the first time in the run game today—how different he is in the timing and the fit on the edge there."
Ford could offer guidance to Bosa while the rookie works his way back from injury. In the meantime, he'll form a solid outside-inside tandem with defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. Together, the two pose a tough challenge for offensive linemen.
Seattle Seahawks: Signing DE Ezekiel Ansah
The Seahawks opted to trade Frank Clark to the Chiefs as opposed to giving him a new deal this offseason. To fill his void, general manager John Schneider signed Ezekiel Ansah in May.
Ansah underwent offseason shoulder surgery. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, he could miss September action, at least, because of his recovery. Head coach Pete Carroll expressed a more optimistic view with hope the 30-year-old suits up for Week 1, per John Boyle of the team's official website.
Even in the worst-case scenario, missing an early portion of the season, Ansah's presence bodes well for the defensive line. Seattle selected L.J. Collier with the 29th overall pick in the draft, but he only started one year at TCU. Defensive end Rasheem Green went through a nondescript rookie term with seven solo tackles and a sack in a backup role.
The Seahawks need Ansah to provide some pop to the pass rush while Collier and Green go through their early stages of development. If the six-year veteran makes a full recovery, he could return to his 2017 form—a season in which the 6'5", 275-pounder logged 12 sacks.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Hiring HC Bruce Arians
Head coach Bruce Arians has developed a reputation as a no-nonsense and brilliant offensive mind. In play-caller and lead skipper roles, he's fielded top-10 passing attacks with three teams: Steelers, Colts and Cardinals. The 66-year-old worked with the likes of Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck and Carson Palmer at different stages of their respective careers.
If anyone could optimize quarterback Jameis Winston's talent, Arians has a good shot to guide the young signal-caller's career in the right direction. The 25-year-old isn't a total project. He's thrown for 14,628 yards, 88 touchdowns and 58 interceptions while completing 61.6 percent of his pass attempts through four seasons. Arians will focus on limiting his turnovers.
Arians sees an issue with Winston's delivery, which leads to picks downfield, per Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times. "I've studied a bunch of them," he said. "Clyde [Christensen] has watched every throw he's made since his rookie year and Byron [Leftwich], too. And it's like you're trying to look safeties off too long and your feet are crossed. So much of it is mechanical."
In the NFL, a competent quarterback gives a team a chance to reach the postseason. If Arians can elevate Winston's game, the Buccaneers could become a surprise contender for the upcoming season.
Tennessee Titans: Drafting WR A.J. Brown
Once and for all, the Tennessee Titans have to find out if Marcus Mariota can carry the franchise quarterback label.
The Titans added two notable wideouts to the roster, four-year veteran Adam Humphries and rookie second-rounder A.J. Brown. While the former projects as a high-end slot receiver, the latter offers versatility and a potential wow factor.
Brown led Ole Miss in receiving yards and touchdowns over the last two terms. He can line up in the slot or on the perimeter, ran a 4.49-second 40-yard dash at the combine and possesses the strength to fight off physical defenders downfield.
Before Brown pulled up with an apparent hamstring injury at OTAs, he provided a highlight for spectators. Jim Wyatt of Titansonline.com also suggested the former Rebel could become a game-changer in the passing attack.
"The Titans need to be better at the position, and I believe the team is on its way," Wyatt wrote. "Corey Davis made strides in 2018, Humphries has proven to be a reliable pro and A.J. Brown has big potential."
Brown has a skill set that will allow him to move the chains on quick, short throws and challenge defensive backs deep downfield—his size, speed and hands should open up the offense.
Washington Redskins: Drafting QB Dwayne Haskins
The Redskins didn't make the same mistake as the Broncos last year. The front office acquired Case Keenum but still took a quarterback in the first round.
Although Keenum could claim the starting job this summer, Haskins has shown enough flashes to indicate he's going to battle for the spot. NBCS Washington's Peter Hailey talked about the rookie's performance during Day 2 of mandatory minicamp:
"Haskins delivered the top highlight. No. 7 is working to adjust to the pressure he's facing and overthrew more than a few targets on Wednesday, but he was money in the two-minute drill that wrapped up the proceedings. First, he picked out Kelvin Harmon near the sideline and barely fit a 20-ish yard pass in to the rookie. Then, he finished the drive off with a wild touchdown to Terry McLaurin that looked like a Madden glitch."
Haskins only started one term at Ohio State, so he's not going to put together perfect practices, but the former Buckeye possesses the pocket presence and arm talent to start right away. Keenum, a steady veteran, will provide a decent challenge for the No. 1 spot.
Even though it's his first year in the league, Haskins will have a legitimate opportunity to start Week 1. According to ESPN.com's John Keim, head coach Jay Gruden said "he deserves a shot" at the job.