Ranking the 7 Best Decisions Since the End of the 2020 NFL Draft
Some general managers have to address pressing issues after the NFL draft. Teams still have voids to fill. During an irregular offseason with virtual learning, coaches may want more veterans as insurance for inexperienced pros.
Even in the late waves of free agency, several acquisitions can make immediate impacts with new teams. In addition to making quality signings, some front-office executives have put their respective clubs in position to sustain productivity and a competitive edge beyond the 2020 campaign.
Based on short- and long-term projections, we've ranked seven of the best decisions following the April draft. Though most of these transactions involve players who are capable of providing instant help, a couple of the moves could also make major impacts on teams' futures.
7. Las Vegas Raiders Sign CB Prince Amukamara
The Las Vegas Raiders added much-needed experience at cornerback. Trayvon Mullen, who's going into his second season, and rookie first-rounder Damon Arnette projected as Week 1 starters.
Without on-field practices because of coronavirus-related restrictions, rookies may find it difficult to prepare for in-game action. Players won't use a lack of physical reps as an excuse, but teams should have reasonable expectations for their newcomers.
Prince Amukamara could keep the starting seat warm for Arnette, who will eventually have a shot to lock down the position.
Amukamara hasn't logged an interception in three of the last four seasons. Yet he's still effective in coverage. In 2019, the nine-year veteran broke up 10 passes and allowed only two touchdowns in 15 starts.
Furthermore, Amukamara sensed a fit within defensive coordinator Paul Guenther's scheme, per Kyle Martin of the Raiders' official website:
"With Paul's defense, I followed him when he was at Cincinnati and you can see the guys are aggressive, and he likes for his guys to press and I think that's where I flourish. I'm one of, if not the best, corners in press, man-to-man coverage in the league and I have the tape to show that, which is why I'm saying that so boldly."
Amukamara has the most starting experience within the Raiders' cornerback group. Arnette and Mullen can learn from the veteran as the former earns or waits his turn to enter the starting lineup.
6. New York Giants Use UFA Tender on EDGE Markus Golden
The New York Giants made a shrewd offseason move, placing the rarely used unrestricted free-agent tender on Markus Golden, which benefits the team in one of two ways.
Golden can negotiate with other clubs, but he has until July 22 to sign a contract elsewhere. If not, Big Blue would retain his exclusive rights for $5.2 million, per ESPN's Jordan Raanan.
In the event Golden inks a deal with another team, the Giants would receive a compensatory pick in 2021, so New York wouldn't lose its top pass-rusher from the previous term for nothing.
Last season, Golden registered 10 sacks and 13 tackles for a loss as the Giants' most impactful defensive player. He would project as a starter and quality holdover to mix with former Green Bay Packer Kyler Fackrell, Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines on the edge.
At No. 7, the Raiders have a potential starter in cornerback Prince Amukamara if Damon Arnette isn't ready to take on a big role, whereas Golden should be a lock to start after his impressive 2019 showing. Secondly, the Giants' decision comes with a consolation prize if they lose their free-agent target to another squad.
5. Kansas City Chiefs Sign DE Taco Charlton
The Dallas Cowboys selected Taco Charlton with the 28th pick in the 2017 draft. He has yet to play up to first-round expectations, logging 67 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and nine sacks in 37 outings.
In the 2019 season, the Cowboys twice listed Charlton as a healthy scratch and then waived him Sept. 18. The Miami Dolphins claimed the 25-year-old, who then registered 17 tackles, three tackles for loss and four sacks in Weeks 3-8.
Charlton was inactive for three of the Dolphins' last four games, yet the Michigan product flashed enough to warrant some interest on the open market. In Kansas City, he'll have support from defensive end and former Wolverines teammate Frank Clark, per Matt McMullen of the team's official website:
"I feel like a lot of people are doubting Taco and for the first part of his career, it hasn't been to the standard that I'm sure he would want it to be. ...
"At Michigan I made a lot of mistakes, but on that football field, I did my share of leading those guys. One thing I did in that position room is change the way the position was being played, and Taco followed suit. He listens and he does great things."
Charlton's quick start with the Dolphins suggested he might have needed a change in scenery after an unproductive tenure with the Cowboys. Now under Clark's wing again, he could show flashes similar to his solid stretch last year.
In 2019, Emmanuel Ogbah, the 32nd pick from the 2016 draft, had some success rushing the passer under Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, logging 5.5 sacks in 10 games. Kansas City didn't retain him, which left a rotational role open for Charlton.
Though Markus Golden had a more productive 2019 term than Charlton, the Giants may lose him to another team. The Chiefs signed the latter, who's in a favorable situation with a former teammate and will have a chance to produce on the edge.
4. Cleveland Browns Exercise TE David Njoku's 5th-Year Option
David Njoku had an injury-riddled 2019 campaign that limited him to four games. He caught just five passes for 41 yards and a touchdown.
According to ESPN's Jake Trotter, the previous regime could have dealt Njoku before the end of his rookie contract.
"Had coach Freddie Kitchens and general manager John Dorsey been retained, Njoku almost certainly would have been out the door," Trotter wrote. "Still, while Njoku would have a fresh start under a new coach and front office, it's clear he was also losing the trust of QB Baker Mayfield."
The Cleveland Browns went in a new direction, though, hiring general manager Andrew Berry and head coach Kevin Stefanski. The front office picked up Njoku's fifth-year option, which bodes well for the tight end despite his disconnect with Mayfield in 2019.
As the offensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings, Stefanski utilized two tight ends in the passing game. Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith Jr. got nearly the same number of targets (48 and 47). They combined for 75 receptions, 678 yards and eight touchdowns.
If Stefanski's use of tight ends carries over to Cleveland, Njoku and Austin Hooper should have enough opportunities to make an impact.
In Atlanta, Hooper put together consecutive Pro Bowl terms before signing with the Browns. Njoku had a strong 2018 campaign, catching 56 passes for 639 yards and four scores in 16 games, including 14 starts. Together, they can pose a matchup issue for defenses.
Despite a down season, partially due to a wrist injury, Njoku proved he can play at a solid level as a starter in the recent past. That's more than can be said for Chiefs defensive end Taco Charlton, who's barely scratched the surface of his potential.
3. Dallas Cowboys Sign CB Daryl Worley
The Raiders opted to go with Prince Amukamara rather than re-sign Daryl Worley for veteran insurance at cornerback. The Cowboys signed Worley, who could start on the boundary and will allow the coaching staff to exercise personnel flexibility. He also offers youthful experience at 25 years old.
Through four campaigns, Worley has started 49 of his 56 contests with the Raiders and Carolina Panthers. He doesn't possess top-notch foot speed but brings physicality and fulfills his obligations in run support.
Worley doesn't warrant Pro Bowl consideration with his production in coverage, though he's steady, logging 34 pass breakups and five interceptions for his career. The 6'1", 215-pounder gave up five touchdowns in each of the last two terms. On a positive note, he allowed a 53.5 percent completion rate in 2019.
Because of Worley's track record as a starter, the Cowboys won't have to rush rookie second-rounder Trevon Diggs into a featured role. Secondly, the team can consider moving Chidobe Awuzie to safety, which is an idea that's on the table, per Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News.
For now, Anthony Brown, whom the Cowboys re-signed, seems like Worley's top challenger for a spot on the outside. The former has shifted between the slot and boundary, while the latter has mostly lined up on the perimeter.
Worley comes with multiple positives, specifically the ability to start right away, allowing the Cowboys to tweak their secondary. For that, this transaction ranks over the Browns' decision to exercise David Njoku's option, which will require a stronger rapport between Njoku and quarterback Baker Mayfield to yield results.
2. Seattle Seahawks Sign RB Carlos Hyde
Quarterback Russell Wilson looks like a football magician on the field when he evades pressure and sometimes makes plays out of nothing. Yet we can't overlook the importance of the Seattle Seahawks ground attack over the last two years.
The Seahawks ranked first and fourth in rushing yards in 2018 and 2019. They also listed second and third in carries during those campaigns, which illustrates offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's commitment to the run.
Seattle's top two running backs suffered season-ending injuries in December. As general manager John Schneider said on 950 KJR (h/t Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times), Chris Carson (hip) is on track to suit up for Week 1, though Rashaad Penny doesn't have the same outlook.
"Penny suffered a knee injury that included an ACL tear and other damage in a game against the Rams on Dec. 8 and he is likely to start the year on the physically unable to perform list," Condotta wrote. "... General manager John Schneider said in a recent interview it would be hard for Penny to be ready for the start of the season."
With Penny on the mend, Carlos Hyde could split carries with Carson to form a solid tandem able to maintain the team's production on the ground. The Seahawks' newcomer ran for a career-high 1,070 yards as the lead ball-carrier for the Houston Texans in 2019.
According to NFL Network's Michael Silver, Hyde underwent shoulder surgery in February. Team brass likely expects him to make a full recovery in time for the regular season.
The Seahawks' commitment to the ground game pushed this acquisition over the Cowboys' addition.
In Dallas, cornerback Daryl Worley will likely compete for a starting role, while Hyde has a clear path to a decent workload with Penny possibly out for at least six weeks.
1. New Orleans Saints Sign QB Jameis Winston
According to The Athletic's Jay Glazer, the New Orleans Saints see quarterback Taysom Hill as "the guy" to take over the huddle when Drew Brees retires. Despite the team's confidence in him, we have to question whether the 29-year-old will pan out as a starting quarterback.
Thus far, head coach Sean Payton has deployed Hill as a utility player who lines up at running back and wide receiver and contributes to special teams in addition to taking minimal snaps as a quarterback. He's thrown just 13 passes.
Jameis Winston has flaws. He's thrown by far the most interceptions (88) since his 2015 rookie campaign. However, the turnover-prone signal-caller led the charge for the league's No. 1 passing offense in Tampa Bay in 2019.
With a good coaching staff, Winston can produce. At his best, the aggressive passer can poke big holes through a secondary.
The Saints signed Winston to a one-term, $1.1 million pact. That's great value for a five-year starter who's coming off a 5,109-yard season and was a No. 1 overall pick.
In a quarterback league, teams must consider the short- and long-term outlooks at the position. As Brees goes into his age-41 campaign, the Saints have to put together succession plans or risk falling in to a desperate search for a replacement.
This acquisition won't have an immediate impact, but if the Saints made an inaccurate assessment on Hill as a starter, Winston can compensate for that miscalculation with his extensive experience. Secondly, the former Buccaneer could also make fill-in starts (as Teddy Bridgewater did in 2019) if Brees goes down with an injury.
At a cheap price, New Orleans brought in a proven quarterback who can learn the system for a season and potentially battle Hill for the spot under center after Brees hangs up his cleats. Sometimes, a transaction that's two steps ahead of the present is the best move to secure a bright future. That's why this signing landed at No. 1.