Predicting Boldest Roster Moves for the 2020 NFL Offseason
Here's a bit of advice for NFL teams: Don't be afraid to roll the dice on a high-profile veteran on the free-agent market or trade block. Likewise, a draft prospect under scrutiny could take an organization in the right direction.
Of course, big gambles can fall flat. In his first season with the Jacksonville Jaguars, quarterback Nick Foles was a disappointment, throwing three touchdowns and two interceptions in four starts. Cleveland Browns wideout Odell Beckham Jr. didn't click with quarterback Baker Mayfield as expected.
Yet, there were some big moves that provided immediate impact or hope for the future. The Houston Texans sent two first-rounders to the Miami Dolphins in a deal involving left tackle Laremy Tunsil, who earned his first Pro Bowl nod this past season. New York Giants rookie quarterback Daniel Jones showed promise, taking some of the heat off general manager Dave Gettleman.
As teams take aggressive approaches in roster improvement, we'll see notable names on the move, proven players sign lucrative deals and a few rookie quarterbacks represent much-needed change.
Focusing on the biggest names, we'll go through 10 bold but realistic offseason moves, which include trades, free-agent signings and a probable top-10 selection for April's draft in Las Vegas.
Baltimore Ravens Acquire EDGE Ryan Kerrigan from Washington Redskins
Assuming the Cincinnati Bengals select quarterback Joe Burrow with the No. 1 pick, the Washington Redskins will have an opportunity to take defensive end Chase Young at No. 2. If that's the case, the Ohio State product would likely line up opposite Montez Sweat—a 2019 first-rounder.
Washington would have two long-term assets at defensive end, so Ryan Kerrigan may become expendable on the final year of his deal.
In 2019, Kerrigan had a modest campaign, logging a career-low 5.5 sacks. At 31 years old, he may have more to offer, but the nine-year pro would probably see his defensive snap count continue to dwindle behind Young and Sweat.
The Redskins could attempt to trade Kerrigan for 2020 draft capital, and the Baltimore Ravens seem like an ideal landing spot.
Aside from Matt Judon, who's an impending free agent, the Ravens don't have a reliable pass-rusher. This past season, Tyus Bower was second on the team with five sacks. He's logged 8.5 in 47 career contests.
As a playoff team with specific needs, Baltimore should pursue veterans who could provide an immediate impact in sizable roles. Kerrigan is one of the most underrated pass-rushers in the league. Since his 2011 rookie term, he's logged 90 sacks, which ranks fourth among all players.
Buffalo Bills Sign DE Yannick Ngakoue to 5-Year, $95 Million Deal
The Buffalo Bills don't have massive contracts on their books. They have three players averaging north of $10 million annually: center Mitch Morse, interior tackle Star Lotulelei and defensive end Jerry Hughes.
According to Spotrac, the Bills are projected to have $89 million in cap space. Team brass should use its financial capital to aid its 23rd-ranked scoring offense (19.6 points per game).
Yannick Ngakoue won't improve the Bills' 26th-ranked aerial attack, but his pass-rushing skills would add another layer to a strong defense that allows the offense to come along gradually.
In 2019, Buffalo surrendered the second-fewest points (16.2) and third-fewest yards (298.2) per game. Yet the front seven needs an upgrade on the edge.
Coming off a career high in sacks (6.5), Shaq Lawson will be testing the open market. Trent Murphy and Jerry Hughes combined for 9.5 sacks and 36 quarterback pressures this past season, but the latter is going into his age-32 campaign.
The Bills don't necessarily need Ngakoue, but he's in his prime, logging 37.5 sacks through four seasons. That total ranks 12th leaguewide since 2016. While it's bold to double down on a strength rather than address a glaring weakness, Buffalo's defensive unit played a bigger factor in its solid 10-6 finish.
Josh Allen made moderate strides as a passer throughout his sophomore campaign, but he didn't need to light up the scoreboard because the defense held most opposing offenses to a minimum. Ngakoue would push that group over the top, keeping the pressure off the quarterback's arm.
Carolina Panthers Draft QB Justin Herbert
Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa generate the most draft buzz among the quarterbacks. Many view the former as the first overall pick following a sensational run through the College Football Playoff in which he recorded 14 total touchdowns en route to the national title. The latter's hip injury adds uncertainty, which sparks debate about his draft stock.
Justin Herbert isn't mentioned as the best QB in the class, yet he's widely considered a first-round prospect who could become a franchise player.
If Tagovailoa is healthy, he may not fall outside of the top five. Herbert could be an option for the Los Angeles Chargers and Carolina Panthers at Nos. 6 and 7, respectively.
The Chargers haven't decided whether to bring back Philip Rivers, while the Panthers placed Cam Newton on the trade block, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. With head coach Matt Rhule and his staff taking over, Carolina is more likely to flip to a fresh chapter.
The team would replace its big-armed, mobile quarterback—who has nine years of wear and tear—with another big-bodied signal-caller who's capable of using his legs.
At 6'6", 237 pounds, Herbert isn't as physical on the run as Newton, but he'll tuck the ball and move the chains in short-yardage situations. The two-year full-time starter may enter the league as a more refined passer after finishing with a 64 percent completion rate over four collegiate terms.
The move from Newton to Herbert would send shockwaves through the Panthers fanbase. The 30-year-old has been the face of the franchise since 2011. However, with the head-coaching change and Carolina's reported willingness to trade the Auburn product, we could see the franchise choose Herbert at No. 7.
Cleveland Browns Trade WR Odell Beckham Jr. to Philadelphia Eagles
Back in December, Jay Glazer of Fox Sports reported Odell Beckham Jr. wanted out of Cleveland. The three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver publicly refuted that rumor, suggesting he's happy with his current team.
While it's hard to find the truth beneath Glazer's report, the Browns should consider shipping Beckham out of town and shifting toward a run-first offense—similar to what new head coach Kevin Stefanski ran (as a play-caller) with offensive adviser Gary Kubiak in Minnesota.
Like the Vikings, the Browns have a pocket-passing quarterback who's limited athletically and a talented lead running back.
The offense could feature Nick Chubb, who finished second in rushing (1,494) for the 2019 term, along with Kareem Hunt if the team re-signs him. The tandem would open up play-action opportunities for Baker Mayfield.
The Browns can send Beckham to the Philadelphia Eagles, who need speed at wide receiver. If possible, they should attempt to swap wideouts, taking Alshon Jeffery and a second- or third-round pick in case his play declines after he underwent Lisfranc surgery.
Although Beckham had a disappointing 2019 campaign, recording a career-low 55.6 percent catch rate, he still had 74 receptions for 1,035 yards and four touchdowns. The six-year veteran should post better numbers with Carson Wentz under center.
The Browns can abort an experiment that didn't produce optimal results. The Eagles would have a dynamic perimeter playmaker to elevate Wentz. Both sides win.
Los Angeles Chargers Acquire QB Cam Newton from Carolina Panthers
The Panthers fanbase may need time to get used to the switch from Newton to Herbert. With that said, the Chargers can move on from Rivers and bring a huge spark into their new stadium, acquiring a flashy quarterback on the field and at the podium.
They'll get a younger at the position without having to potentially abandon playoff aspirations in favor of developing an upstart signal-caller.
If healthy, Newton can still threaten defenses with his powerful arm and ball-carrying ability. The NFL's Superman would likely play inspired football in his contract year following a blockbuster trade.
He'd have wideouts Keenan Allen and Mike Williams on the perimeter, tight end Hunter Henry if he re-signs with L.A. and dual-threat running back Austin Ekeler out of the backfield (if they bring him back in restricted free agency).
Furthermore, Newton would be able to mask pass-protection issues if an offensive lineman underperforms or goes down with an injury. That's an added plus in shifting from Rivers, 38, who doesn't have much mobility. Newton has rushed for 4,806 yards and 58 touchdowns over his career.
Minnesota Vikings Cut CB Xavier Rhodes, Draft Trevon Diggs
During the 2017 offseason, the Minnesota Vikings signed Xavier Rhodes to a five-year, $70.1 million extension. He followed up with an All-Pro campaign and at least 10 pass breakups for a fifth consecutive term. Over the last two years, his production has fallen off a cliff.
He hasn't logged an interception since the season opener of the 2018 campaign, and in his last 29 contests, he's logged 13 pass breakups with several forgettable performances along the way.
Last offseason, head coach Mike Zimmer challenged Rhodes to play up to his contract, but that call to action didn't spark a bounce-back campaign. The seven-year veteran continued to struggle all the way through the postseason.
The Vikings can save $8.1 million if they release Rhodes, per Over the Cap, leaving $4.8 million in dead money on the remaining three years of his deal.
With the No. 25 overall pick in the draft, the Vikings can select Rhodes' potential replacement in Trevon Diggs, who's the brother of wide receiver Stefon Diggs.
The younger Diggs became a standout at Alabama during the 2019 term, registering eight pass breakups and three interceptions. The 6'2", 207-pound defensive back has a strong case to enter the league as a first-rounder. Minnesota can add the long, athletic cover man to bolster its pass defense, which ranked 15th this past season.
New York Jets Trade RB Le'Veon Bell to Washington Redskins
A top-notch running back can't overcome a poor offensive line. Le'Veon Bell didn't lose his All-Pro ability; he signed with a New York Jets team that ranked 31st in run blocking, per Football Outsiders.
The Jets dealt with both injuries and subpar play across the offensive line. Three of their five Week 1 starters landed on injured reserve. Brandon Shell, one of the end-of-season first-stringers, lost his job to rookie third-rounder Chuma Edoga midway through the campaign. The latter suffered a season-ending MCL injury late in the year.
Although Bell isn't the main reason for the Jets' issues on the ground, his patient running style may not fit with an offensive line in need of construction. Gang Green may see more production from a one-cut downhill ball-carrier who doesn't hesitate to hit lanes, which may be a bit narrow in New York in 2020.
The Jets could send Bell and possibly a Day 2 selection to the Washington Redskins for left tackle Trent Williams, who's been at odds with the organization but may be contemplating a return, per The Athletic's Rhiannon Walker.
Washington needs running back help. Adrian Peterson is going into his age-35 term, and Derrius Guice has played five games in two seasons because of multiple knee injuries. The team has a 2020 club option on the elder tailback.
Keep in mind, head coach Adam Gase wasn't thrilled about Bell's four-year, $52.5 million price tag, per Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. Former general manager Mike Maccagnan signed off on the deal before the team fired him in May.
Under GM Joe Douglas, the team may look to move Bell, per SNY's Ralph Vacchiano. If Gang Green could acquire a seven-time Pro Bowl tackle in return, that's a solid deal. The organization can move on with a veteran running back on a cheaper contract or a rookie in the upcoming class.
Oakland Raiders Sign DT Chris Jones
In 2019, the Oakland Raiders selected defensive end Clelin Ferrell with the No. 4 overall pick and saw rookie fourth-rounder Maxx Crosby exceed expectations with a team-leading 10 sacks.
Still, the Raiders recorded the eighth-fewest sacks and ranked 29th in quarterback pressures. The team fired defensive line coach Brentson Buckner but not because he did a poor job. Oakland had 19 more sacks and improved to eighth in run defense after finishing 30th in 2018. Head coach Jon Gruden said he wanted to make a change, per Vic Tafur of The Athletic.
Overall, the Raiders still need help in the pass rush. The coaching staff can allow Ferrell and Crosby to grow as bookend defenders and focus on the interior of the defensive line.
At defensive tackle, Johnathan Hankins, Maurice Hurst and P.J. Hall have been a solid trio. None of them provides a threat to the quarterback like Chris Jones, though.
In 2018, Jones finished third leaguewide in sacks (15.5). During the 2019 campaign, he missed three games with a groin injury but still recorded nine sacks and eight tackles for loss. Those numbers top those of each of the Raiders' interior defenders.
Jones will likely cost $18-19 million annually, but he's worth the price for a defensive line in need of a stronger push at the line of scrimmage.
The interior of the front line isn't the Raiders' biggest need; however, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther would finally have an interior tackle who could wreck the pocket as Geno Atkins did for him in Cincinnati.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sign QB Tom Brady
Here's Part 1 of the plan to put the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back in contention after they missed the postseason for the 12th consecutive term.
The Bucs have been deciding whether to retain Jameis Winston, who threw for 33 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in 2019. According to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times, head coach Bruce Arians said in December that the team would likely have a decision in a couple of weeks but may not make it public.
Heading into his age-43 season, Tom Brady clearly isn't in his prime like Winston, but he'll protect the football and upgrade the passing attack with his decision-making in critical situations. The six-time Super Bowl champion hasn't thrown 30 interceptions in the last four seasons combined (29).
Brady may not have Winston's arm strength, but he can still throw at a high volume, which fits into Arians' pass-heavy approach. The New England Patriots quarterback, who's set to test the free-agent market, ranked fourth in throwing attempts (613) in this past season, only 13 fewer than Winston.
Tampa Bay may not seem like a probable spot for Brady, but if he's seeking a high-end supporting cast in the aerial attack, the Buccaneers unit offers a plethora of pass-catching weapons.
Playing with a group featuring wideouts Mike Evans and Chris Godwin along with tight ends O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate, Brady could post gaudy numbers and become the driving force for Tampa Bay's high-octane but efficient passing attack.
According to Over the Cap, the Bucs are projected to have the fourth-most cap space in the league. They could have room for more upgrades after signing Brady, which may appeal to the three-time NFL MVP.
Brady would also join forces with a reputable head coach in Arians, who went 38-21-1 with Carson Palmer during the final stretch of his career in Arizona between the 2013-17 campaigns.
In order to field a legitimate contender with Brady, the Buccaneers would need to see steady improvement from their defense and establish a decent ground attack, which leads to the final bold move.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Acquire RB David Johnson from Arizona Cardinals
This is Part 2 of the go-for-it offseason plan. With Brady under center, the Buccaneers would need a complementary rushing offense.
Brady could throw 600-plus times, but even with a stacked pass-catching group, that's not a winning formula for a soon-to-be 43-year-old quarterback.
The Buccaneers can attempt to pry David Johnson from the Arizona Cardinals. He's been mediocre since his All-Pro 2016 campaign under Arians.
In 2017, Johnson dislocated his wrist in the season opener and landed on injured reserve. He's averaged fewer than 59 rushing yards per game in each of the last two terms and lost his featured role to Kenyan Drake in the second half of the 2019 campaign.
If the Cardinals re-sign Drake and move on from Johnson, the latter could reunite with Arians in Tampa Bay and play within a familiar offensive system that fits his dual-threat skill set.
Even if the Buccaneers don't make a bold push for Brady, Johnson would add another dimension to their attack. He'd join an offense that ranked third in scoring and yards in 2019.
With a middling defense, Tampa Bay can attempt to outscore opponents or control the clock by using Johnson on the ground. If defensive coordinator Todd Bowles' group comes up with timely stops and turnovers, the Buccaneers may be playoff contenders.