NFL Free Agency 2020: Which Teams Have Improved the Most so Far?
The first wave of free agency has passed, and it was a wild week of player movement. Several household names, such as DeAndre Hopkins, Stefon Diggs and Byron Jones, switched teams.
But which rosters improved the most?
Based on the amount of high-end talent acquired via signings and trades, and the fits on each roster, let's take a look at five squads that could be on the rise after dominating in the first week of the new league year.
It's important to note that franchises that lost vital players will be docked. One notable team that isn't on the list is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who did add Tom Brady, but lost two key starters on the defensive line in Beau Allen and Carl Nassib. It's also debatable if Brady is an upgrade over Jameis Winston at this stage of his career.
Key additions: CB Byron Jones, LB Kyle Van Noy, DE Shaq Lawson, OG Ereck Flowers, DE Emmanuel Ogbah, RB Jordan Howard
Entering the 2020 offseason, the Miami Dolphins were loaded with cap space and needed to improve just about every roster spot. But rebuilding franchises can often struggle to attract top-flight free agents.
That wasn't an issue for the Dolphins, though.
Their biggest move was signing 2018 Pro Bowler Byron Jones to a five-year, $82 million deal, making him the league's highest-paid cornerback. The 27-year-old is just hitting his peak and has the type of position flexibility that head coach Brian Flores will love.
Jones can play any defensive back spot, as he has started multiple seasons at both cornerback and safety. Pairing him with fellow Pro Bowler Xavien Howard could make for the NFL's best cornerback duo.
The Dolphins also added two defensive starters in linebacker Kyle Van Noy and end Shaq Lawson. Both have been productive in the AFC East over the last few seasons with the Patriots and Bills, respectively, and provide Flores more athleticism and playmaking in the front seven.
Miami also added depth, bringing in Ereck Flowers, Emmanuel Ogbah and Jordan Howard. While none of these signings are fantastic, they all bring experience and leadership to a young team.
While the Dolphins aren't ready to take over the division, they have made significant progress in free agency. And with three first-round picks coming in April's draft, Miami could be on the rise in 2020.
Key additions: RT Jack Conklin, TE Austin Hooper, DT Andrew Billings, SS Karl Joseph
The Cleveland Browns are no strangers to being offseason winners, but the hope is they have addressed needs that will help franchise quarterback Baker Mayfield thrive.
The biggest move Cleveland made was locking up former Titans right tackle Jack Conklin. The Browns had arguably one of the worst offensive lines last season, mostly because of poor play at the tackle positions.
Conklin should shore up the right side, as he is widely regarded as one of the NFL's best tackles. While he may not be the best pass protector, his ability to dominate as a run-blocker, specifically in a wide-zone scheme, makes a ton of sense in head coach Kevin Stefanski's offense. And with Bill Callahan coaching the offensive line, expect him to get the most out of the 2016 All-Pro.
The Browns also added the top free-agent tight end in Austin Hooper. While Cleveland didn't have a need at the position, one of the league's most dangerous receiving weapons in the middle of the field should pull attention from Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. If nothing else, Hooper gives the team another red-zone option.
Cleveland also added two young, emerging defenders in tackle Andrew Billings, 24, and strong safety Karl Joseph, 26. Both players have improved over the last few years and figure to be big-time contributors.
If Cleveland can continue to rebuild its offensive line through free agency and the draft, don't be surprised if it bounces back in a major way next season. There is too much offensive talent for this team to fail to live up to expectations in 2020.
Las Vegas Raiders
Key Additions: LB Cory Littleton, DT Maliek Collins, LB Nick Kwiatkoski, FS Jeff Heath, DE Carl Nassib, TE Jason Witten, QB Marcus Mariota, WR Nelson Agholor
With significant cap space and several holes, the Las Vegas Raiders had to make moves. Luckily for them, the market could supply their needs.
Their biggest roster hole entering the offseason was at linebacker. The team addressed this by signing two starting-caliber 'backers in Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski. Littleton is a Pro Bowler who is only 26 years old and has started 32 games over the last two seasons.
Kwiatkoski was a part-time starter for the Bears over the last four years, but he has the talent to be a high-end starter, as he should play more as a weak-side linebacker under defensive coordinator Paul Guenther.
The Raiders also addressed their lack of defensive line depth. Their biggest move was signing former Cowboys defensive tackle Maliek Collins to rejoin defensive line coach Rod Marinelli. Collins is just 24 years old and has started 55 games. He is expected to compete with third-year defensive tackle Maurice Hurst for snaps inside.
Carl Nassib was another quality signing, as he is projected to be the team's third defensive end behind Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby. Nassib isn't an elite pass-rusher, but he has totaled 12.5 sacks over the last two seasons. Look for Marinelli to use him all across the defensive line to generate pressure.
Vegas also added several veterans, such as Marcus Mariota, Jeff Heath, Jason Witten and Nelson Agholor to build up the bottom of its roster.
Quietly, the Raiders have improved their defense and still hold two top-20 picks. Don't be surprised if this team takes another step forward next season.
Key additions: WR Stefon Diggs, DT Vernon Butler, DT Quinton Jefferson, DE Mario Addison, LB A.J. Klein, CB Josh Norman
If there is one thing we have learned about the Bills this offseason, it's that they smell blood in the AFC East. With Tom Brady out of New England, the Bills seem to believe they could dethrone the Patriots in 2020.
Their biggest move was trading for former Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs. While they had to give up the No. 22 pick and a few others to acquire Diggs, a No. 1 receiver was the team's biggest need. Diggs is just 26 and has posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. He's widely regarded as one of the NFL's best route-runners and should be a perfect fit with quarterback Josh Allen. His presence should also help free up receivers John Brown and Cole Beasley.
After acquiring Diggs, the Bills continued to add to their elite defense, signing three defensive linemen. Their best move might have been inking versatile defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson (two years, $13.5 million), who recorded 6.5 sacks for the Seahawks over the last two seasons. Look for him to back up 2019 first-round pick Ed Oliver and give them even more interior pass-rushing pressure.
Defensive tackle Vernon Butler and end Mario Addison are two former Carolina Panthers linemen who have ties to head coach Sean McDermott (former Panthers defensive coordinator). Both will add depth to an already stout line. Cornerback Josh Norman and linebacker A.J. Klein both have Carolina ties as well and will add depth.
Buffalo still has seven picks in the 2020 draft and not many roster holes. Look for the Bills to be a legit AFC contender next season.
Key Additions: WR DeAndre Hopkins, DT Jordan Phillips, LB De'Vondre Campbell
Heading into the 2020 offseason, the common belief was the Arizona Cardinals would use the No. 8 pick to draft a No. 1 receiver. But after stealing DeAndre Hopkins from the Cardinals in a trade that sent shock waves through the NFL, they'll use that pick elsewhere, likely on the offensive line.
Hopkins is arguably the league's best receiver and is just 27 years old. He has been named an All-Pro in three straight seasons and has scored an incredible 31 touchdowns during that span. He gives second-year QB Kyler Murray a leg up and should take attention off receivers Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald.
The Cardinals also added to their defensive line, signing veteran tackle Jordan Phillips to a three-year, $30 million deal. Phillips had a career year in 2019 for the Bills, recording 9.5 sacks as a nose tackle. He should help shore up the Cardinals run defense and is an ideal fit for Kliff Kingsbury's team.
Arizona also added linebacker De'Vondre Campbell (one year, $8.5 million), who has started 54 games over the last four seasons for the Falcons. While he isn't a dynamic player, he should fit in well with Jordan Hicks as a middle linebacker.
There is still a lot to be done in Arizona to turn this team into an NFC West contender, but the Cardinals are building the right way. Look for them to continue to be aggressive with courting free agents, especially on defense.
Key Additions: DT Javon Hargrave, CB Darius Slay
Entering free agency, the Philadelphia Eagles didn't have many needs. They had to address their cornerback situation as well as their wide receiver corps, but the latter could be filled in the draft. The Eagles then nabbed one of the market's best cornerbacks in Darius Slay, acquiring him from Detroit for third- and fifth-round picks and signing him to a three-year, $50 million contract extension.
Slay gives the Eagles a No. 1 corner who can follow and shut down some of the NFL's best receivers. While they need to continue to address the position with depth, the All-Pro can cover a lot of holes. But Slay wasn't Philly's only big addition.
The Eagles signed veteran defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, formerly of the Pittsburgh Steelers, to a three-year, $39 million deal. While Hargrave isn't an elite sack artist, he is one of the NFL's toughest nose tackles to block, as he has elite speed and quickness for the position. He should dominate against the run and help push Fletcher Cox into more one-on-one matchups.
The Eagles still have eight picks and more cap space, but they have already added two elite defenders. Look for both Slay and Hargrave to have big seasons.