2019 NFL Offseason's Biggest Winners and Losers so Far
Games aren't necessary to determine winners and losers around the NFL. The constant offseason churn of front-office personnel, coaching staffs and rosters provides limitless changes to the league's landscape every year.
As with any movement, positives and negatives can be found in each team's actions. Some are more successful than others. Success is viewed through progression rather than regression.
Overall, a simple question must be asked: Is a team better now than it was entering the offseason?
A year ago, the Cleveland Browns were coming off the NFL's second-ever 0-16 campaign.
New general manager John Dorsey had to do something drastic. He made significant trades for wide receiver Jarvis Landry, safety Damarious Randall and quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Then he drafted quarterback Baker Mayfield, cornerback Denzel Ward and running back Nick Chubb.
The Browns experienced a seven-game improvement, and they're even better on paper right now.
Cleveland serves as an extreme example of positive change. But the Arizona Cardinals experienced the exact opposite after head coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Carson Palmer retired, which created a freefall toward the league's worst record. They had nowhere to go but up from that point.
The aforementioned franchises are included among the offseason's biggest winners so far. The losers, meanwhile, are caught in difficult positions—whether through their own making or not.
Winner: Arizona Cardinals Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury
Imagine being mediocre at your job for six seasons and never leading your program to anything better than an 8-5 record only to be fired, accept a collegiate coordinator position and become an NFL head coach in less than two months.
Well, that's exactly what happened to Kliff Kingsbury. Not only did Kingsbury fail upwards, but he also couldn't have landed in a better spot.
The Cardinals had money to spend—which they did on cornerback Robert Alford, linebacker Jordan Hicks, tight end Charles Clay and edge-rusher Terrell Suggs—the No. 1 overall pick and a willingness to build around the coach's vision.
They used that No. 1 overall pick on quarterback Kyler Murray.
"Kyler is a freak," the coach said in October when he was still leading the Texas Tech Red Raiders, per KAMC's Eric Kelly. "... I would take him with the first pick of the draft if I could."
The Cardinals didn't worry about last year's first-round pick, Josh Rosen, and chose Murray to serve as the perfect facilitator for Kingsbury's scheme since the reigning Heisman Trophy winner already played in an Air Raid derivative.
To summarize, the 39-year-old offensive guru failed at his first major coaching stop yet still got a better job and the quarterback he desperately wanted. Yep, that's called winning the offseason.
Loser: Houston Texans
The Houston Texans are in disarray.
CEO Cal McNair decided to fire general manager Brian Gaine in June with no obvious successor.
"That's a tough decision for Cal to make," head coach Bill O'Brien said afterward. "He did a thorough evaluation on the football operation. I'm not saying he did it by himself, but he did a thorough evaluation on the football operation, and that included me. He was very clear with me on what we needed to do to continue to grow as an organization."
The team couldn't pursue its top option, New England Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio, because of a clause in his contract that prevents interviews with other teams, according to the Houston Chronicle's John McClain. As a result, the Texans are considering the possibility of not hiring a general manager, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.
That's just the start of Houston's problems.
The Philadelphia Eagles outmaneuvered Houston on draft day by trading in front of the Texans and selecting the class' best pass-blocking left tackle in Washington State's Andre Dillard. The Texans settled for Alabama State's Tytus Howard with the following selection, but he's primarily a right tackle. So, the offensive line issues still aren't solved.
Winner: Cleveland Browns
LeBron James left a crater-like void in Cleveland's sports landscape when the area's native son decided to join the Los Angeles Lakers.
Enter Odell Beckham Jr. to give the city the superstar it craves.
The fact the Browns landed arguably the game's best wide receiver is enough reason to celebrate their offseason. He'll serve as Cleveland's lightning rod. But general manager John Dorsey improved the team in multiple areas, especially by sinking significant assets into last year's 30th-ranked defense.
As part of the Beckham deal—which was really two trades merged into one—defensive end Olivier Vernon came along for the ride. Vernon gives the Browns a counterpoint to Myles Garrett so offenses can't always slide protection toward the 23-year-old Pro Bowl defensive end.
Dorsey also signed Sheldon Richardson to address 3-technique. With Larry Ogunjobi already in the fold, the Browns' defensive line can win one-on-one matchups across the board.
Furthermore, the secondary received a boost when Greedy Williams fell into the second frame and Dorsey traded up to secure the cornerback's services. Williams already received first-team reps opposite Denzel Ward during organized team activities and minicamp, according to Cleveland.com's Scott Patsko.
Right now, the Browns roster is as talented as any around the league.
Loser: Miami Dolphins QB Josh Rosen
Quarterback Josh Rosen can't help the situations in which he's been placed.
Last year's Arizona Cardinals squad turned into a disaster with very few left standing once the dust settled. But the simple fact Arizona decided to move on from the 2018 draft's 10th overall pick, albeit for a better all-around fit and talent, is disappointing.
"I definitely feel bad for Josh and what happened to him," former teammate David Johnson said during an interview on SiriusXM radio (h/t Kyle Crabbs of USA Today's Dolphins Wire). "The circumstances he was put in, it was rough for him. Like I've been telling everyone, I think [Rosen]'s going to be one of the most dominant quarterbacks in this league."
The Miami Dolphins expertly navigated the trade market and received Rosen at a heavily discounted price. The organization landed a recent top-10 talent for this year's 62nd overall pick (after trading down) and a 2020 fifth-rounder, and that's both a positive and negative.
Rosen is 22 years old with plenty of potential, and he doesn't account for more than $2.9 million against the salary cap at any point over the next three seasons. However, he won't be handed the job. Veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick is the projected starter at this point.
It's entirely possible Rosen goes from a top pick and rookie starter to not even seeing the field this fall. Granted, that's an outside possibility since Fitzpatrick is known to falter, but it does exist.
Winner: Philadelphia Eagles QB Carson Wentz
Any time a player receives the most practical guaranteed money in NFL history, he's enjoying a good offseason.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz isn't the league's highest-paid player in total value (Matt Ryan) or annual salary (Russell Wilson), but he's guaranteed $107.97 million over the life of the four-year extension, according to Spotrac. After all, guarantees are what really matter.
"It's something both sides wanted to get done," Wentz told reporters after he signed the deal. "I knew I wanted this to be home for a long time, and ever since being drafted, it's felt like home. So as soon as we found something that was a win-win, a really fair opportunity, I jumped at it, just because I love this place and I want to be here for a while, so I felt it was a good time."
With Wentz taken care of, the Eagles don't have to worry about the quarterback position for a long time. More importantly, the franchise feels it paid the right person to lead the team, as owner Jeffrey Lurie said:
"Every moment he's been with us in the Eagles, he's just reinforced everything we expected and much more from those [pre-draft] days, whether it's leadership, poise, the desire to be really, really good, if not great. Attention to detail, smart, the face of the franchise in so many ways ... it's how you draw it up. Our goals are to win really big, and to do that at its best, you need a quarterback that wants it really badly, and Carson, in every way, wants it badly."
Wentz may not have been the quarterback who gave the Eagles their first Super Bowl victory, but the 26-year-old signal-caller has been an instrumental part of the team's success over the last three seasons.
Loser: New England Patriots
The New England Patriots traversed the offseason as well as they possibly could because, well, they're the Patriots, aka the NFL's best-run organization. But certain losses are too difficult to overcome in one offseason, even for head coach Bill Belichick and Co.
Rob Gronkowski's retirement served as the biggest body blow to the reigning Super Bowl champions. The Patriots didn't just lose the focal point of their passing attack; they're far worse off at the point of attack, too. Gronkowski was the game's best two-way tight end, and he's arguably the greatest tight end of all time.
A team can't simply replace an individual of that stature.
Instead, the Patriots will turn to a loaded backfield, slot receiver Julian Edelman and first-round pick N'Keal Harry. It'll take time to transition, though Tom Brady's presence will help expedite the process.
If the Patriots lost Gronkowski and no one else, then the idea of calling them offseason losers would be a tad extreme. The losses didn't stop there, though.
Trey Flowers, who led the team with 7.5 sacks last year as a versatile inside-outside pass-rusher, signed with the Detroit Lions during free agency. Left tackle Trent Brown left for the Oakland Raiders, as well.
Of the three, only Flowers has been adequately replaced. But Michael Bennett, who takes over his pass-rushing role, is eight years older. Left tackle remains uncertain as Isaiah Wynn recovers from last year's torn Achilles tendon. As of now, Matt LaCosse (who?) is the Patriots' projected starting tight end.
Winner: Denver Broncos Defense
For the most part, the NFL is trending toward younger, offensive-minded head coaches. The Denver Broncos decided to go in the opposite direction by hiring long-time defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. The 60-year-old first-time head coach brings a brilliant defensive mind to maximize the unit's existing talent.
"It's just, alignment-wise, it's like it's old-school defense where you line up and you beat the guy in front of you," defensive end Derek Wolfe told reporters. "We're going to be moving. You beat him, beat him, beat him, and then next thing you know we're slanting somewhere and moving around and misdirecting."
Wolfe may be "falling in love" with the scheme, but Von Miller and Bradley Chubb should be the biggest beneficiaries.
Miller already set his sights on a 20-sack campaign. The 30-year-old defender posted a career-high 18.5 sacks in 2012 and tied for fourth overall last season with 14.5 sacks. His goal isn't too much of a stretch. Instead, the biggest growth should come from the defense's second-year edge-rusher.
"For him to make a big jump and improve from Year 1 to Year 2," Fangio said of Chubb, per The Athletic's Nicki Jhabvala. "I think he's very capable of that. He's got versatility. He could play outside backer like everybody knows in the nickel. He's a guy you can sink down inside and play some as a D-lineman."
The Broncos also feature interchangeable parts at cornerback with the recently renegotiated Chris Harris Jr. and free-agent addition Bryce Callahan.
Loser: New York Giants
The Giants aren't a better football team today than they were at this same point last year because of self-inflicted wounds.
A year ago, the franchise still featured Odell Beckham Jr., Damon Harrison, Landon Collins and Olivier Vernon. Since October, four of the organization's five best players were either traded away by general manager Dave Gettleman or allowed to walk.
The amount of star-driven turnover is flabbergasting.
The organization obviously didn't value Harrison the same way others do. Gettleman didn't place the franchise tag on Collins, and the safety walked in free agency, which created a ripple effect that led to the Beckham trade. The Giants valued third-year safety Jabrill Peppers enough as a stand-in first-round pick to go along with this year's 17th overall draft selection and completed a deal with the Cleveland Browns centered around the mercurial wide receiver. The two parties had already agreed to a Vernon-and-Kevin Zeitler swap.
Basically, the Giants traded away an elite wide receiver, the game's best run defender, a top-end defensive back and a consistent edge-rusher for a starting right guard, a potential-laden safety and an extra first-round pick that turned into nose tackle Dexter Lawrence.
That's simply not getting good value in return.
All of that happened before the Giants surprised nearly everyone by selecting quarterback Daniel Jones with this year's sixth overall pick. Now, Jones is stuck behind Eli Manning for some time.
Winner: Non-Premium Positions
As the salary cap continues to rise, the market resets itself each offseason.
Normally, four positions—quarterback, left tackle, cornerback and pass-rusher—dominate the market. They still do since all four experienced resets this offseason. However, other positions experienced the same result.
Right tackle, center, off-the-ball linebacker, safety and nickel corner saw tremendous financial growth. Now, those positions are looking toward new standards.
Trent Brown, who will play right tackle for the Oakland Raiders, signed the richest deal for an offensive lineman in NFL history at $16.5 million per season. Mitch Morse will snap the ball to Josh Allen for the Buffalo Bills at $11.2 million per year.
C.J. Mosley surpassed the Carolina Panthers' Luke Kuechly as the highest-paid inside linebacker after signing a five-year, $85 million deal with the New York Jets.
As the game evolves, nickel is recognized more and more as a starting position. Justin Coleman agreed to a record-breaking four-year, $36 million deal to play over the slot for the Detroit Lions.
Teams aren't allocating all of their financial resources to the premium positions. With so much salary-cap space available (over $1 billion each of the last two offseasons), top performers at all positions are getting paid.
Loser: New York Jets RB Le'Veon Bell
Running back Le'Veon Bell said all the right things after sitting out last season and signing a four-year, $52.5 million free-agent deal with the New York Jets.
"It was amazing," Bell said following his return to the field during mandatory minicamp, per Yahoo Sports' Kimberley A. Martin. "Just running around and just being able to trash talk and catch some balls and just sweat in your helmet—you know, things that we kind of take for granted when you're playing. The fact I had that whole year off and came out here and played football again, it felt so good."
Even so, Bell isn't entering the best situation.
First, the contractual value didn't reflect the player's valuation. According to NFL Network's Aditi Kinkhabwala, Bell sought $17 million per year as a feature back/hybrid receiver. Instead, he fell nearly $4 million short of that goal.
The Pittsburgh Steelers did offer a five-year, $70 million dollar deal prior to the 2018 campaign, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. They extended $45 million in rolling guarantees through the first three seasons. With New York, the running back will make $45.5 million in his first three seasons based on guaranteed money and base salary.
Secondly, Jets head coach Adam Gase didn't want to sign the three-time Pro Bowl selection, according to the New York Daily News' Manish Mehta. The two parties will make the best of a bad situation, but it's easy to envision a future implosion.