Every NFL Team's Smartest 2020 Offseason Decision so Far
It didn't take long for the 2020 offseason to shift the NFL landscape.
Once the legal tampering period began Monday, the deals started flying, and every franchise got in on at least a little bit of the action, whether it was by letting a free agent walk, signing new talent or swapping players and/or picks.
While plenty of moves could be criticized, we'll focus on at least one smart decision each franchise made—even the Houston Texans.
On-field improvement for the upcoming season was our primary consideration, but we weighed each team's cap situation and the value of the move as well.
Arizona Cardinals: Trading for DeAndre Hopkins
Heading into the offseason, it appeared Amari Cooper was going to be the best wide receiver available to teams.
Houston Texans head coach Bill O'Brien would like a word.
Not many would have predicted that the Texans would part ways with one of the most productive receivers in football in DeAndre Hopkins. Dianna Russini of ESPN reported Wednesday that Nuk was looking for a new deal that would pay him $18-20 million a year, and Houston made him available when it was told he wouldn't show without one.
Hopkins' reported demand isn't implausible. That yearly number is in line with the likes of Michael Thomas, Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr.
Hopkins has proved he's in that tier. Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury and Co. got a dynamic No. 1 receiver for Kyler Murray, and it cost them David Johnson—a running back who was supplanted by Kenyan Drake anyway—a second-rounder and a 2021 fourth-rounder.
Atlanta Falcons: Signing Dante Fowler Jr.
The Atlanta Falcons have needed help with their pass rush for a few years. They tied for the second-fewest sacks in 2019 and were 22nd in the league in 2018.
Bringing in Dante Fowler Jr. on a three-year deal worth "up to $48 million," according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, should do a lot to alleviate that problem. Fowler is coming off his best season to date, recording 11.5 sacks and 35 pressures with the Los Angeles Rams.
The only critique is the fact that Aaron Donald's presence made it a bit easier to get pressure on the edge, but Fowler will benefit similarly from Grady Jarrett on the inside in Atlanta.
Fowler, 25, will be an upgrade over Vic Beasley Jr., who was a bit of a disappointment in the leading pass-rusher role. He reportedly joined the Tennessee Titans on a one-year deal.
Baltimore Ravens: Trading for Calais Campbell
The Baltimore Ravens are one of the most well-run franchises in the NFL, so it's no surprise they have some smart moves to choose from. But the trade to acquire Calais Campbell from the Jacksonville Jaguars stands out.
The Ravens acquired a three-time All-Pro player (one-time first team) at a position of need, and the price was a fifth-round draft pick. It gets even better. They acquired that selection when they traded their backup kicker to the Minnesota Vikings last offseason.
Baltimore was a legitimate Super Bowl contender regardless of whether it had a strong offseason. However, the addition of Campbell along with Michael Brockers elevates last year's No. 4 defense. In 2019, the Ravens had to blitz a league-high 54.9 percent of the time to get pressure. With Brockers and Campbell, they don't have to rely as much on their scheme to create pressure.
The two should team up with edge-rusher Matthew Judon to create havoc for quarterbacks this season.
Buffalo Bills: Trading for Stefon Diggs
With Tom Brady leaving New England, the AFC East feels more open than it has in, well, 20 years. The Buffalo Bills made a big step in presenting themselves as the new favorites in the division with the acquisition of Stefon Diggs from the Vikings.
The Bills had to send over four picks, including their 2020 first-rounder, to get Diggs, but in all likelihood, Buffalo would have spent that pick on a wide receiver. Instead of hoping the rookie could produce, the Bills now have someone who is all but guaranteed to help Josh Allen continue his progression in his third season.
Even in Minnesota's run-heavy offense, Diggs had more yards and yards per target than anyone on the Bills roster. Moving John Brown to WR2 will only help his development after he eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving mark in 2019.
Carolina Panthers: Bringing Back Tre Boston
This could be the Carolina Panthers' signing of Teddy Bridgewater to a three-year, $63 million deal, which moves them on from the Cam Newton era. But even the most staunch Bridgewater supporter would have to admit that the 27-year-old comes with questions.
He was great as a spot starter for New Orleans but hasn't been a consistent starter since 2015.
Tre Boston, however, has been nothing but consistent for teams lately even though they all seem to move on from him. He has recorded at least seven pass breakups and two interceptions in each of the last four years.
If Boston would have left, it would have been his fourth team in four campaigns. Instead, Carolina inked him to a three-year, $18 million deal that is front-loaded.
That kind of cost-effective contract will allow the Panthers to shift their focus to other needs. They will get solid play out of Boston for relatively cheap and have outs in place if it doesn't work out.
Chicago Bears: Releasing Leonard Floyd
Leonard Floyd never lived up to his first-round billing. The former Georgia Bulldog showed promise in his 2016 rookie campaign with seven sacks in 12 games, but he hasn't reached that total again despite playing in all 16 games in each of the past two seasons.
In 2019, the pass-rusher amassed just three sacks. Starting opposite of Khalil Mack, that's just an unacceptable number.
In releasing Floyd, the Bears saved $13.2 million and paved the way to bring on Robert Quinn, whom they ultimately signed to a five-year, $70 million deal after he put up 11.5 sacks with the Dallas Cowboys in 2019. While that's a lot of money and a long contract for a guy who is entering his age-30 season, he's guaranteed to be more productive than Floyd was.
Cincinnati Bengals: Signing D.J. Reader
The Cincinnati Bengals have traditionally avoided the bigger names in free agency. It's been their standard operating procedure for years, but with LSU's Joe Burrow seemingly coming to town at No. 1 overall in the 2020 draft and the Zac Taylor era still getting started, they made a rare big move.
D.J. Reader, 25, was one of the top interior defensive linemen available. The Bengals didn't just spend a ton of money on a guy whose best days are behind him. They shelled out $53 million over the next four years for a player who should be productive for the length of the contract.
At 6'3", 347 pounds, Reader is a behemoth inside who should command attention and help Geno Atkins. He played 691 total snaps last season and has the pass-rushing ability to be a three-down player.
Cleveland Browns: Signing Jack Conklin
New general manager Andrew Berry wasted no time in putting his signature on the Browns. Cleveland was one of the first teams to make a splash in the legal tampering period, when it agreed to a market-setting four-year, $42 million contract with tight end Austin Hooper.
Hooper will be paired with David Njoku to form a strong one-two punch at the position.
Then things got really good. Berry signed Jack Conklin, the top tackle on the market, to a three-year, $42 million deal. When you compare it to other signings—like George Fant's and Bryan Bulaga's three-year, $30 million deals with the New York Jets and the Los Angeles Chargers, respectively—they didn't overpay. Conklin, 25, is much better and more experienced than Fant and younger than both him and Bulaga.
The Browns are doing all they can to give quarterback Baker Mayfield the tools to succeed.
Dallas Cowboys: Signing Gerald McCoy
With so much focus on Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper, the fact that the Dallas Cowboys lost a large swath of their starters from last season has gotten lost in the shuffle.
Defensively, that list includes Maliek Collins, Jeff Heath, Robert Quinn and Byron Jones. Fortunately, the Cowboys found a way to stop some of the bleeding by agreeing to an affordable three-year, $18.3 million deal with defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.
The 32-year-old's best days are behind him, but he's still a productive player. He registered five sacks and 22 pressures with Carolina last season, which is comparable with the four sacks and 21 pressures Dallas got from Collins in 2019.
The signing was a frugal way of patching up a defense that is going to need further investment.
Denver Broncos: Signing Graham Glasgow
The Denver Broncos added some defensive firepower with trades for cornerback A.J. Bouye and defensive lineman Jurell Casey. The area where they really need help is the offensive line, though.
Last season, they gave up 41 sacks, and one of their best interior pass protectors, Connor McGovern, just left in free agency. The center/guard signed a three-year, $27 million pact with the New York Jets. So the Broncos replaced him with Graham Glasgow at four years and $44 million.
Glasgow brings a little more experience to the field with four years as a starter to McGovern's two. He's an excellent pass protector who gave up zero sacks while committing just three penalties last season in Detroit, per Pro Football Focus.
Protecting second-year quarterback Drew Lock has to be a top priority, and the Broncos took a major step toward that goal with Glasgow.
Detroit Lions: Signing Desmond Trufant
It was clear heading into the offseason that Darius Slay wasn't likely to return to Detroit. Getting a corner to replace him was going to be important.
Ultimately, the Lions netted a third- and fifth-round pick in a deal with the Eagles, and Philadelphia added three more years and $50 million to Slay's contract.
So rather than hand out a huge extension to Slay, the Lions got two draft picks and added Trufant for two years and $21 million. That's making the best of a less-than-ideal situation. Corner is still a need, and it would have been even if Slay had stayed. Detroit had the 32nd-ranked secondary in 2019.
But signing Trufant—and getting those selections—gives them options to build depth at the position and shields them from some of the production lost from Slay.
Green Bay Packers: Signing Rick Wagner
The Green Bay Packers haven't been very active on the market. Their limited cap flexibility (25th in cap space) hasn't allowed them to be competitive with some of their free agents.
They watched linebacker Blake Martinez and offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga walk for three-year, $30 million deals with the Giants and Chargers, respectively.
But Bulaga will be 31 years old when the season starts. It was smart for the Packers to lock up Rick Wagner on a two-year, $11 million contract. Wagner is also entering his age-31 campaign, but the deal will allow Green Bay to see if he can be a serviceable starter without much financial commitment.
He's definitely a step down from Bulaga in terms of talent, but the Packers did their best with what they had.
Houston Texans: Extending Bradley Roby
The Houston Texans offseason been baffling to put it lightly.
Bill O'Brien has had success as a coach, but his record as a general manager remains in question. He made his most baffling move yet by trading DeAndre Hopkins in a deal that brought back running back David Johnson, a second-round pick and fourth-round swap in 2021.
The trade had all of NFL fandom making fun of the Texans and overshadowed the team's extension of cornerback Bradley Roby, who agreed to add three years to his deal for $36 million.
That may be an overpay, but it will likely look better as the cornerback market continues to develop. Roby held opposing quarterbacks to a 79.9 passer rating when targeted in 2019. The Texans don't have a ton of depth at corner, so locking up their best one was a smart move.
Indianapolis Colts: Signing Philip Rivers
The Indianapolis Colts' interest in Philip Rivers was one of the worst-kept secrets of the offseason, but that doesn't make the one-year, $25 million agreement any less great for the team.
Head coach Frank Reich was with the Chargers from 2013-15 as either the quarterbacks coach or offensive coordinator. In 2013, Rivers tied his career-high passer rating as a starter (105.5), and he threw 92 touchdowns against 42 interceptions over those three campaigns.
Indy's trade of its first-round pick for DeForest Buckner was a bold move. The AFC South squad will count on the 26-year-old to anchor that defensive line for years to come. However, if the Colts are going to push all of their chips to the center of the table, they need strong quarterback play.
Rivers' one-year deal doesn't make him something he's not. He's a stopgap who should give the team a fighting chance in the division while it figures out the long-term solution.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Franchise-Tagging Yannick Ngakoue
The Jacksonville Jaguars didn't have much choice here, but it was still a smart move.
Yannick Ngakoue has made it clear he doesn't want to be in Jacksonville. Given the exodus of talented players like Calais Campbell and A.J. Bouye, the Jaguars are clearly in rebuilding mode and looking for cap space and draft capital.
They are in prime position to achieve both of those ends by dealing Ngakoue. With most of the premier free agents off the market, the Jags are holding on to one of the few assets left who will be a flashy acquisition.
If they are basically forced to move on from a franchise-defining player, they might as well get a good return.
Kansas City Chiefs: Franchise-Tagging Chris Jones
By franchise-tagging Chris Jones, the Kansas City Chiefs have given themselves options moving forward.
According to Next Gen Stats, the 25-year-old is tied with Aaron Donald for the fastest pass-rush get-off time among interior defensive linemen. Donald is the only interior lineman with more sacks than Jones over the last three seasons.
The problem is that Jones is likely to command Donald-level compensation. The Rams defensive tackle earns an average of $22.5 million a year. That's a big chunk of money for a team that will need to sign Patrick Mahomes to an extension soon.
If the Chiefs can't or aren't willing to commit that kind of money to Jones, they can now trade him. Given the first-round pick the Colts had to give up to acquire DeForest Buckner, KC is likely to get a good return.
Las Vegas Raiders: Rebuilding the Linebacking Corps
This is kind of cheating, but we are going with two signings here: Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski.
The Raiders were 31st in defensive DVOA in 2019 and ranked 30th in 2018, according to Football Outsiders. A lot of attention has been on the offense and the signing of Marcus Mariota, but securing the services of both Littleton and Kwiatkoski for three seasons is what will make the biggest impact.
Kwiatkoski (27 in May) and Littleton (26) are both relatively young and have the perfect combination of coverage and run-stuffing ability to modernize the Raiders linebacking corps.
Littleton and Kwiatkoski are going to help whoever is at quarterback more than any free agent Las Vegas will sign on offense this year.
Los Angeles Chargers: Trading for Trai Turner
One team's highly questionable decision-making gave another a five-time Pro Bowler.
The Panthers surprised everyone when they shipped off guard Trai Turner to Los Angeles in exchange for left tackle Russell Okung. There was no draft capital involved. So the Chargers lost a two-time Pro Bowl tackle to pick up a five-time Pro Bowl guard who is roughly five years younger.
They've already added Bryan Bulaga at tackle, so the Chargers have done a great job of rebuilding the offensive line.
Los Angeles Rams: Signing A'Shawn Robinson
Releasing Todd Gurley II just two seasons into his four-year extension was the biggest decision the Rams made, but that was a lose-lose.
Gurley is coming off his worst statistical season. He set career lows in carries and yards and had a reduced role in the passing game. While the team dodged a $10.5 million payday had he stayed on the roster, per ESPN's Adam Schefter, they'll have a $20.2 million dead-cap hit. Had the Rams waited one more year, that number would have gone down to $8.4 million.
The signing of defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson, however, was a smart move all around. L.A. doesn't have a ton of cash, so being frugal is important. Robinson is a good upside signing at a good cost (two years, $17 million), and they needed him after losing Michael Brockers in free agency.
Miami Dolphins: Investing in the Pass Rush and Coverage
The Miami Dolphins entered the offseason with a ton of cash, and they didn't just sit on it. They spent it and spent it quickly.
That's not a bad thing. They desperately needed upgrades all over the place. They handed out $178.5 million in contracts to cornerback Byron Jones, linebacker Kyle Van Noy and defensive ends Shaq Lawson and Emmanuel Ogbah.
That's a ton of money, but it addresses two major needs—the ability to cover receivers and get after the passer. Miami recorded the fewest sacks (23) in the league and had the seventh-worst pass defense in 2019.
Jones is a true lockdown corner who will be able to track the other team's No. 1 receiver and shadow him all over the field. Van Noy, Lawson and Ogbah combined for 18.5 sacks last season. Each would have led the Dolphins in that category.
Miami has a long way to go, but it is investing in the right areas in 2020.
Minnesota Vikings: Getting a First-Round Pick for Stefon Diggs
It's always a divisive move when a team gets rid of a star player.
Given some of the trades we've seen across the league and the varying compensation, it's clear that getting a quality draft pick isn't guaranteed. The Minnesota Vikings did well to secure four picks from the Buffalo Bills, including the 22nd selection, for Stefon Diggs and a seventh-rounder, which will help them retool a roster that has some gaps.
The Vikings are losing several players on the defensive side of the ball. Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander are both headed to Cincinnati. Linval Joseph is also out. Everson Griffen and Xavier Rhodes remain unsigned.
The team isn't in line for a rebuild. The Vikes are coming off a 10-6 season. But there's no doubt they are going to need the draft capital to replenish the roster, especially on defense. Losing Diggs will hurt, but the running game is still strong, and Adam Thielen can cover the No. 1 receiver role.
New England Patriots: Re-Signing Devin McCourty
It's important to remember the New England Patriots won the AFC East on the strength of an elite defense, not Tom Brady and the offense.
So while Brady is leaving and that will change the identity of the offense, the best thing the Pats could do is keep as much continuity with the defense as possible. Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy are leaving, but the Pats did well to make sure Devin McCourty is coming back to play safety on a two-year, $23 million agreement.
McCourty will be 33 in August, so this is far from a long-term fix. But he was still the No. 8-rated safety by PFF last season and has shown he can still play at a high level. Maintaining continuity in the secondary will go a long way as the Patriots acclimate to life without Brady.
New Orleans Saints: Re-Signing Drew Brees
This is the boring choice, but it's obviously the smartest thing the New Orleans Saints could have done. Drew Brees is still an elite quarterback, and when you have a chance to bring one of those back, you have to do it.
Lesser franchises would have allowed the promise of Teddy Bridgewater or even Taysom Hill to distract them from the importance of Brees. The Saints did not, and the quarterback returned the favor with a team-friendly two-year, $50 million deal.
Brees was second in the league in passer rating and was as efficient as ever last season. He threw for 27 touchdowns and four interceptions while completing 74.3 percent of his passes.
There are very few players on the planet capable of those numbers, but Brees is still one of them. Even at 41 years old.
As long as his play continues at that level, the Saints will be contenders.
New York Giants: Signing Kyler Fackrell for Cheap
This one is all about value.
The New York Giants opened up their checkbook to get James Bradberry and Blake Martinez and used the franchise tag to keep Leonard Williams. These were all good moves, but they paid market price for each of them.
The biggest bargain was Kyler Fackrell. who signed a modest one-year, $4.6 million deal. Fackrell comes to the Giants off the most disappointing season of his career. He went from playing 59 percent of the snaps in 2018 and getting 10.5 sacks to playing only 40 percent and logging just one.
It's worth noting that Patrick Graham was the linebackers coach in Green Bay during Fackrell's big season. He is now the defensive coordinator in New York. If he can get even a fraction of the production he got out of Fackrell the last time the two were together, this will go down as the Giants' best signing of the offseason.
New York Jets: Signing Connor McGovern
The New York Jets have to find a way to protect Sam Darnold. The franchise quarterback missed three games in each of his first two seasons, and the Jets gave up 52 sacks in 2019. Only three teams were worse at protecting the quarterback.
Problem, meet solution.
Connor McGovern is a quality center who excels in pass protection. As Connor Hughes of The Athletic noted, he only surrendered one sack in 609 pass-blocking snaps last season.
McGovern is a great example of a player whose skill set matches the need of a team. He should be a good centerpiece for the offensive line over the course of the three-year, $27 million deal.
Philadelphia Eagles: Trading for Darius Slay and Extending Him
The Philadelphia Eagles missed out on Byron Jones, but they pivoted in the best way possible by trading for Darius Slay and adding a three-year, $50 million extension to his contract.
Cornerback was a need for the Eagles. Philadelphia gave up a 90.8 passer rating to opposing quarterbacks in 2019 and was 16th in pass defense DVOA. The front office made sure to got a good one in Slay and locked him up for the foreseeable future.
The price was steep. In addition to the huge extension, the Eagles had to part with third- and fourth-round picks. But Slay is a proven commodity who will help the secondary go from mediocre to good.
As Warren Sharp noted, Slay has been extremely successful against the Dallas Cowboys' Amari Cooper, for instance. In two games against the now-division rival here were the stats:
- 0 touchdowns
- 3.5 yards per attempt
- 21 yards per game
- 33 percent catch rate
That kind of production against one of the best receivers in the division will be invaluable.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Letting Javon Hargrave Walk
Javon Hargrave is a quality nose tackle and will likely have a positive impact in Philadelphia. The 27-year-old signed a three-year, $39 million deal with the Eagles.
The Steelers simply didn't have the resources to bring him back. They are one of only three teams that are over the cap.
Pittsburgh was in a conundrum with Hargrave and Bud Dupree. Considering the premium placed on pass-rushers, Dupree was worth more to the franchise. The Steelers will get a healthy Stephon Tuitt back this year, too, so Hargrave's absence will be lessened.
The Steelers can look for Hargrave's replacement in the draft while maintaining the pass rush that led the league in sacks last season.
San Francisco 49ers: Re-Signing Jimmie Ward
The San Francisco 49ers' most notable moves involved the defensive line. The team essentially chose Arik Armstead over DeForest Buckner and netted a first-round pick in dealing the defensive tackle to Indianapolis.
It's hard to tell right now if that was a smart move. Both are talented and young defensive linemen, and it would have been difficult to retain both guys long-term. However, the Niners definitely helped their defense by bringing back Jimmie Ward.
Ward was the most important of the trio of big-name free agents the Niners had to make decisions on. They have plenty of pass-rushing options to lose Armstead or Buckner. The team is also stocked with young receivers waiting to fill in for Emmanuel Sanders.
What they didn't have was an obvious Ward replacement, but that's no longer an issue. His versatility and consistent coverage will continue to be an asset for one of the league's best defenses.
Seattle Seahawks: Signing BJ Finney
The Seattle Seahawks offensive line is in for a major makeover in 2020.
George Fant signed with the Jets. It appears Germain Ifedi won't re-sign with the Seahawks signing two tackles, and the signing of BJ Finney could be bad news for Mike Iupati and/or Justin Britt.
According to Brady Henderson of ESPN, Finney played significant snaps at left and right guard as well as center in his four seasons with the Steelers. He was never a consistent starter but showed promise in his time filling in as the starting center for four games.
Britt is coming off a torn ACL and could be a cap casualty. Iupati will be 33 years old in May. Finney is a cheap option who could serve as a good replacement. Finding value for an offensive line in transition would be huge for the Seahawks.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Signing Tom Brady
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers stole the offseason when Adam Schefter and Jeff Darlington of ESPN reported the team expected to sign Tom Brady.
The fact that Brady left the New England Patriots after 20 seasons is going to be one of the biggest stories of the 2020 season, and Tampa Bay will be the epicenter.
Regardless of how you feel about Jameis Winston, the Bucs had to make this move when given the opportunity.
Brady doesn't just bring solid quarterback play to the table; he brings leadership, experience and one of the most impressive resumes in NFL history. The 42-year-old may be in decline, but he still put up solid numbers with a so-so supporting cast in New England.
Brady ranked seventh in the league in interception percentage and passing yards in 2019.
Now he'll have Mike Evans and Chris Godwin to throw to. The Bucs have to fix their offensive line and develop a running game, but the pieces are there for an explosive passing attack.
Tennessee Titans: Franchise-Tagging Derrick Henry
In general, paying running backs a premium has become passe. The success of a rushing attack lies more with the offensive line and scheme than it does running back talent.
Derrick Henry is good enough to raise questions about that conventional wisdom.
The Tennessee Titans made it to the AFC Championship Game on the back of his 446 yards in the postseason.
Still, handing out big-money long-term deals to running backs can be dangerous (see: Gurley, Todd; Johnson, David). So franchise-tagging the star was a prudent move for the Titans. Doing so will allow them to keep Henry around for one more season and see if he can continue the success or at least give them some more time to construct a long-term deal.
The Titans should look to the draft to begin the process of replacing Henry if they want to continue to rely so heavily on the running game.
Washington Redskins: Franchise-Tagging Brandon Scherff
The franchise tag is almost always a smart move for the team. It makes for either a built-in "prove it" deal or a useful tool for giving the team more time to decide how to proceed with a player.
In the Washington Redskins' case, franchising Brandon Scherff will give them more time to work on an extension for the guard. Bringing Scherff back has become even more important as free agency has continued.
Ereck Flowers left for Miami, Trent Williams still hasn't come back to the team, and Donald Penn remains a free agent. While Flowers might not be great and the team has been without Williams, that's still a lot of potential turnover.
Bringing Scherff back is important because Ron Rivera needs to have at least some semblance of a line to protect Dwayne Haskins.