Every NFL Team's Smartest Move of the 2020 OffseasonMay 27, 2020
Every NFL Team's Smartest Move of the 2020 Offseason
Every NFL fan has sometimes thought they could do a better job than their favorite team's general manager. If you've ever caught yourself screaming at the TV that a player is a wasted draft pick, an overpaid clown or something perhaps more profane, you know what I mean.
Yes, NFL decision-makers make poor choices. Sometimes they really are in over their heads. Every once in a while, though, even the most pedestrian general manager does something so smart that it's tough to argue against.
Here, we'll examine such a move for each franchise in the 2020 NFL offseason. These moves have tremendous on-field impact, yield an ideal fit, incorporate the right amount of financial savvy or otherwise impact a franchise in an overwhelmingly positive way. We'll limit this list to personnel-related decisions, so coaching/executive hires won't be considered.
Not every NFL decision-maker is a genius, but these brilliant moves had fanbases feeling good about the people calling the shots.
Arizona Cardinals: Trading for DeAndre Hopkins
Imagine you're running an NFL franchise with a promising second-year quarterback under center, and you find out you can grab arguably the most reliable, uncoverable wide receiver in the game and don't have to surrender a first-round pick to do it.
This is where the Arizona Cardinals found themselves in March with quarterback Kyler Murray and then-Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Arizona secured the three-time first-team All-Pro for running back David Johnson, a 2020 second-round pick and a 2021 fourth-round pick. The Cardinals also got a fourth-round selection in April's draft.
Sometimes smart moves don't have to be difficult. Murray now has a premier No. 1 receiver with which to grow, while Arizona is out a second-round pick and a back whose contract it was eager to unload anyway.
Atlanta Falcons: Signing Todd Gurley
In another no-brainer move, the Atlanta Falcons jumped at the chance to bring former Georgia Bulldogs star Todd Gurley back to the state. Shortly after the Los Angeles Rams released the three-time Pro Bowl running back, Atlanta scooped him up on a one-year, $5.5 million deal.
The combination of fit and price tag makes this a home run signing. Gurley's powerful running style will complement Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the downfield passing attack of the Falcons—and with 218 career receptions, he can be a huge asset out of the backfield.
Gurley is just 25 years old and will be a steal if he bounces back from a down 2019 campaign (just 857 rushing yards and 3.8 yards per carry). Even if he doesn't, his relatively low salary makes him a low-risk, high-reward addition.
Baltimore Ravens: Trading for Calais Campbell
Despite possessing the league's No. 1 offense and regularly playing with a lead, the Baltimore Ravens only managed to produce 37 sacks in 2019. While that mediocre pass rush didn't stop them from winning the AFC North and earning a first-round bye, it did prevent them from being a complete team.
One trade may have changed that. The Ravens acquired veteran pass-rusher Calais Campbell from the Jacksonville Jaguars for the low price of a fifth-round pick. While Campbell had a modest 6.5 sacks last season, he has racked up 31.5 sacks and six passes defended over the last three.
Campbell can still disrupt opposing passing attacks, and the reigning Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award winner is a tremendous leader and teammate. Getting him for a fifth-rounder is tantamount to grand theft.
Buffalo Bills: Trading for Stefon Diggs
The Buffalo Bills' addition of wide receiver Stefon Diggs wasn't a thrifty move as some on this list were. Acquiring him cost 2020 first-round, fifth-round and sixth-round picks and a 2021 fourth-round pick—Buffalo got a 2020 seventh-rounder in return.
However, adding Diggs was smart because it gives third-year quarterback Josh Allen something he's been missing during his time as a pro—a legitimate No. 1 receiver.
The Bills could have targeted one of the many talented receiver prospects in this year's draft, but Diggs is a proven commodity. His field-stretching ability should mesh well with Allen's howitzer of an arm, and he'll back off opposing defenses who may be eager to stack the box against the Bills rushing attack.
After reaching the playoffs in 2019, Buffalo is in win-now mode. This was an intelligent win-now move.
Carolina Panthers: Signing Teddy Bridgewater
It's reasonable to criticize the Carolina Panthers for parting with longtime starter Cam Newton. However, the Panthers did make a smart play when replacing him, signing Teddy Bridgewater to a three-year, $63 million deal—which is a more-than-fair price for a starting quarterback.
Bridgewater was a Pro Bowl starter with the Vikings before a gruesome knee injury nearly derailed his career. He appeared to be back to Pro Bowl form while going 5-0 as a starter with the New Orleans Saints last season.
Bridgewater's time with the Saints is also significant because he spent the 2018 season with new Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady in New Orleans. He should be a tremendous fit for Carolina's new-look offense, and the Panthers did not overpay to get him.
All around, this was a great signing.
Chicago Bears: Trading for Nick Foles
Unfortunately for the Chicago Bears, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has yet to emerge as a legitimate franchise signal-caller. He struggled in 2019, passing for just 3,138 yards with 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
This brings us to the trade to acquire Nick Foles from the Jacksonville Jaguars, which was a sharp move for a couple of reasons. For one, Foles should either push Trubisky or take over the starting job himself—theoretically increasing the odds of a successful season in 2020.
Additionally, Foles can help give the Bears a better idea of whether Trubisky is holding back head coach Matt Nagy or if it's the other way around. If Foles plays significant snaps and Nagy's offense still regularly stalls, then the Bears might be prompted to give Trubisky a shot with someone else running the show.
Cincinnati Bengals: Drafting Joe Burrow
It doesn't always take a lot of work to pull off a smart move in the NFL. In 2019, the Cincinnati Bengals earned the No. 1 pick in the draft. LSU quarterback Joe Burrow had arguably the greatest season in college football history—one that included 60 touchdown passes, a national title and the Heisman Trophy—the same year.
Cincinnati did the obvious thing and pulled the trigger on Burrow at No. 1.
The Bengals could have screwed this up. They could have drafted a different player first overall or traded the pick for a tempting haul of additional selections. They didn't, though, and in sticking with Burrow, they may have changed the course of the franchise.
"Coming off a national championship, coming off all the success he's had at the collegiate level, maybe his work ethic can come in and create a culture there that there's a certain level of commitment, a certain level of work ethic and expertise and professionalism," former Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer told Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.
Cleveland Browns: Signing Jack Conklin
While the Cleveland Browns also deserve credit for drafting new left tackle Jedrick Wills, their free-agent signing of right tackle Jack Conklin was the wisest move of their offseason so far.
Conklin was a first-team All-Pro as a rookie in 2016 and has remained one of the league's most reliable right tackles when healthy. He should immediately improve the line in front of quarterback Baker Mayfield, and he provides a bit of insurance for Wills—Conklin started at left tackle for most of his college career.
This is a make-or-break season for Mayfield, and Cleveland isn't going to get an accurate read on what he can be if his pass protection continuously struggles. Signing Conklin wasn't cheap—he got a three-year, $42 million deal—but it laid the groundwork for what should be an improved Browns season in 2020.
Dallas Cowboys: Signing Andy Dalton
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott may or may not have turned down a lucrative long-term extension already—NBC Sports' Chris Simms said he did, while NFL Media's Ian Rapoport refutes it. What's clear is that Prescott hasn't signed a long-term deal, hasn't signed his franchise tender and could potentially hold out this coming season.
This is why Dallas' addition of veteran quarterback Andy Dalton was a brilliant move. While Dalton may not be an elite signal-caller, he is a serviceable starter with nine years of experience and three Pro Bowls on his resume. He is the perfect veteran insurance to protect against a potential holdout by Prescott.
Dallas signed Dalton to a one-year, $3 million contract shortly after he was released by the Bengals. That's virtual pennies for what is now arguably the best backup quarterback in the game.
Denver Broncos: Drafting Jerry Jeudy
The Denver Broncos appear ready to hand the starting quarterback job to Drew Lock on a full-time basis, so using a first-round pick on former Alabama wide receiver Jerry Jeudy was a wise move.
The Broncos already have a budding No. 1 receiver in Courtland Sutton. However, Jeudy will provide another reliable target who will always be in the right place at the right time.
"In 20 years of doing this, he's the best college route-runner I've ever seen," ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said of Jeudy.
We've seen young quarterbacks like Josh Allen and Sam Darnold struggle to develop because they've lacked adequate weapons around them. By drafting Jeudy—along with second-rounder KJ Hamler—Denver ensured that Lock won't be in a similar situation.
Detroit Lions: Drafting Jeff Okudah
Trading away Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay was not the smartest move of the Detroit Lions' offseason. In fact, it may have been the dumbest. However, the Lions made up for it by pulling the trigger on former Ohio State corner Jeff Okudah with the third overall pick in the draft.
Okudah has the potential to immediately replace Slay as the team's No. 1 cover man, and he may similarly develop into a perennial Pro Bowler.
"He has room for improvement with his recognition and balance at the top of the route, but quarterbacks rarely target and beat him over the top," NFL Media's Lance Zierlein wrote of Okudah.
While a cornerback tandem of Okudah and Slay would be more impressive, picking Okudah was the right decision.
Green Bay Packers: Signing Christian Kirksey
It's been a fairly underwhelming offseason for the Green Bay Packers, at least as it relates to 2020. Drafting players like Jordan Love and A.J. Dillon may prove to be great moves in the long run, but they were luxury decisions for a team that reached the NFC title game in 2019.
Green Bay's underrated signing of linebacker Christian Kirksey, on the other hand, was brilliant and should have an immediate impact. The Packers parted with linebackers Blake Martinez and Kyler Fackrell in free agency, making Kirksey a much-needed replacement.
He will also be a wonderful fit for the defense, having previously played for coordinator Mike Pettine in Cleveland. A tremendously productive linebacker when healthy—he had 138 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 2017—Kirksey is also a bargain at two years and $13 million.
Houston Texans: Trading for Brandin Cooks
Texans head coach/general manager Bill O'Brien may have made one of the more boneheaded decisions of the offseason when he traded away DeAndre Hopkins. However, he at least tried to replace Nuk by dealing for Rams speedster Brandin Cooks.
Considering Houston only surrendered a second-round pick—and got a 2022 fourth-rounder back—this is a solid deal. The Texans practically turned Hopkins into David Johnson and Cooks.
While virtually every quarterback in the league would rather have Hopkins as his No. 1 receiver, Cooks does mesh with quarterback Deshaun Watson and the Texans offense perfectly. Hopkins is a remarkable deep-ball-thrower—Pro Football Focus recently ranked him behind only Russell Wilson—and there's no question that Cooks can stretch the field.
Indianapolis Colts: Signing Philip Rivers
The Indianapolis Colts had a shot at making a run in the AFC South last season, but they failed to do so because of shaky play from quarterback Jacoby Brissett and a lack of balance on offense. Brissett—and for a stretch, Brian Hoyer—struggled to consistently stretch the field, which allowed opposing defenses to key in on the running game.
This shouldn't be an issue now that the Colts have veteran Philip Rivers under center. Rivers won't make fans forget about Andrew Luck, but he's still a productive downfield thrower—one who threw for 4,615 yards just last season.
Rivers should allow head coach Frank Reich to open up the offense in 2020, which might be enough to put Indianapolis back in the postseason. Of course, this all assumes Rivers quickly adjusts to playing for a new franchise.
Getting Rivers for a year at $25 million represents a modest and smart gamble.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Trading Nick Foles
While the Colts don't yet know exactly what they have in Rivers, the Jaguars figured out last season that they didn't like what they had in Nick Foles. Therefore, the trade of Foles to Chicago was a win-win move for both franchises.
With Foles out, the Jaguars can now give Gardner Minshew II a clear run at the full-time starting job—fans won't be calling for the former Super Bowl MVP if Minshew struggles. And if Minshew doesn't emerge as a true franchise signal-caller, then Jacksonville will have a clear shot at a new quarterback in the 2021 draft.
Getting out from under Foles' $22-million-per-year contract makes this move look even better.
Kansas City Chiefs: Franchise-Tagging Chris Jones
The Kansas City Chiefs are reigning Super Bowl champions. Therefore, the moves that needed to be made this offseason largely involved keeping their championship core together. This is why franchise-tagging defensive tackle Chris Jones was such a smart decision.
Inking Jones to a new long-term deal would be preferable, but keeping him off the open market is the priority. Jones is Kansas City's best defensive player—he had 9.0 sacks in 2019 and played a monumental role in the Chiefs' Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
While Jones only had one tackle and no sacks in Super Bowl LIV, he frequently harassed quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and batted away three of his passes. Bringing Jones back should help set the Chiefs up for another deep playoff run.
Las Vegas Raiders: Drafting Henry Ruggs III
Can Derek Carr be Jon Gruden's quarterback? Many Las Vegas Raiders fans have likely asked themselves this question over the past two years, and it popped back into the general consciousness when the Raiders added Marcus Mariota in free agency.
Gruden inherited Carr, and the former Fresno State standout has yet to flourish in his offense.
If Carr cannot thrive with rookie first-round pick Henry Ruggs III in the lineup, then Raiders fans will likely have their answer. Ruggs possesses legitimate 4.27 speed and is also a very capable route-runner. In short, he is what most NFL quarterbacks would want in a No. 1 receiver.
Drafting Ruggs was smart because it gives Gruden and the Raiders an opportunity to better evaluate Carr—and it gives them a potential top-tier receiver even if Carr isn't the one who's throwing Ruggs the ball next season.
Los Angeles Chargers: Signing Chris Harris Jr.
The Los Angeles Chargers may have drafted quarterback Justin Herbert to be their future. However, if the Chargers are going to be successful in 2020, it's likely to come on the strength of their defense.
With players like Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, Derwin James and rookie linebacker Kenneth Murray in the fold, L.A. has the potential to field an elite defense. The addition of free-agent cornerback Chris Harris Jr. makes that defense even better.
Harris may be 30 years old, but he's a productive and versatile defensive back. He can play outside or at nickel, and he racked up 16 passes defended and four interceptions over the last two seasons.
Getting Harris for two years at $17 million was a great deal and a sharp move.
Los Angeles Rams: Re-Signing Andrew Whitworth
The Rams parted with premier players like Gurley, Cooks and pass-rusher Dante Fowler Jr. this offseason, but they did manage to retain starting left tackle Andrew Whitworth. The team re-signed the 38-year-old to a reasonable three-year, $30 million deal.
While Whitworth may no longer be the upper-echelon tackle he once was—he was responsible for 14 penalties in 2019, according to Pro Football Focus—he still knows how to keep a quarterback clean. He allowed just one sack this past season.
His return will be huge for quarterback Jared Goff, both because Whitworth is a great pass protector and because the Rams had no enticing alternatives. The free-agent market was bare at left tackle, and Los Angeles didn't have a first-round pick because of the Jalen Ramsey trade.
Miami Dolphins: Drafting Tua Tagovailoa
Is there injury risk involved with new Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa? Absolutely. The former Alabama star suffered a fractured and dislocated hip last season. However, he possesses elite upside and, perhaps more importantly, the potential to be the new face of the Dolphins.
"He's a hell of a player. Miami, especially at the QB position, really needs that. They need a leader. They need a player," former Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade said, per ESPN's Cameron Wolfe.
Miami could have drafted a guy like Herbert or avoided a quarterback altogether with the fifth overall pick, and the Dolphins might have escaped criticism. They didn't. They took Tagovailoa at No. 5 and, in doing so, may have finally found a proper heir to Dan Marino.
Every quarterback in the draft is a gamble. Tagovailoa represents a calculated one.
Minnesota Vikings: Trading Stefon Diggs
While adding Stefon Diggs was a great move for the Bills, getting rid of him was a savvy one for the Vikings. While he is a fantastic receiver, he is also set to carry a cap hit of just under $11 million in 2020. That wouldn't be a big deal for most franchises, but it would have been tough to swallow for the Vikings.
Even after trading Diggs and releasing Pro Bowl corner Xavier Rhodes, Minnesota has only $12.3 million in cap space.
This was also a smart move because the Vikings knew they could add a new weapon from the promising collection of incoming rookie receivers—which they did by drafting Justin Jefferson. With wideout Adam Thielen and veteran quarterback Kirk Cousins in the fold, the Vikings can weather any early struggles from Jefferson.
New England Patriots: Signing Brian Hoyer
You know it's been an underwhelming offseason when a franchise's highlight move is bringing back a former backup quarterback. Yet signing journeyman Brian Hoyer really has been the smartest move of the New England Patriots' offseason.
Tom Brady left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency, and while the Patriots may believe in second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham, they also need veteran insurance. Hoyer may not be a dynamic backup, but he's a perfect fit for New England.
An 11-year veteran, Hoyer has had two stints with the Patriots (five total years) and knows the offense well. He has appeared in 69 NFL games, giving him the sort of insight and experience that Stidham doesn't have.
Hoyer is also cheap—he signed a one-year, $1.05 million deal for 2020—which is great for the Patriots, who are tight up against the cap.
New Orleans Saints: Re-Signing Drew Brees
While the Patriots lost Brady, the New Orleans Saints managed to keep fellow future Hall of Famer Drew Brees with a new two-year, $50 million deal.
The brilliance of this move is in its simplicity.
Retaining Brees was important for a couple of reasons: He's still an elite signal-caller, and the Saints are hoping to make another run at the Super Bowl. Retaining him on a deal that will pay him just under $24 million in 2020 is even better.
For comparison, consider that Ryan Tannehill will make only about $1 million less than Brees in 2020.
New York Giants: Drafting Andrew Thomas
Using the fourth overall pick on former Georgia offensive tackle Andrew Thomas might not have been the flashiest move the New York Giants could have made, but it was the smartest. Thomas was a true left tackle for the Bulldogs and should be able to make a quick transition to playing on the left side in the NFL.
This is important for two reasons. For one, 2019 starter Nate Solder has been a liability since joining the Giants—he was responsible for five penalties and 11 sacks in 2019, according to Pro Football Focus. As well, with poor line play in front of him, quarterback Daniel Jones has been a turnover machine.
Jones fumbled 18 times in 13 games last season, losing 11 of them. Improving Jones' protection and his ball security have to be primary goals for New York moving forward. Adding Thomas should help on both fronts.
New York Jets: Drafting Denzel Mims
First-round rookie and former Louisville offensive tackle Mekhi Becton should aid in Sam Darnold's development. However, Becton is a relatively raw pass protector and may not make life easier for Darnold immediately.
Second-round Baylor wideout Denzel Mims, on the other hand, might. He's an intriguing 6'3", 207-pound prospect who can provide Darnold with the No. 1 receiver he has been missing.
"Mims is a long-striding outside target with excellent height, weight and speed and an insane catch-radius, Zierlein wrote. "He's a touchdown threat anytime he's near the red zone, with the focus and body control to finesse and finish catches above the rim."
Grabbing a potential future star at tackle in Round 1 and then getting a possible No. 1, early-impact receiver in Round 2 was the smart way to go about business for Gang Green.
Philadelphia Eagles: Trading for Darius Slay
Trading Darius Slay was not the smartest move for the Lions. Trading for Slay was a stroke of genius for the Philadelphia Eagles. Slay is one of the league's best cover men, and he has made the Pro Bowl in each of the past three seasons. He is also still just 29 years old.
This type of cornerback talent doesn't become available often. Adding Slay should immediately bolster Philadelphia's 19th-ranked passing defense.
While acquiring Slay was smart, getting him for third- and fifth-round draft picks was a steal. Sure, the Eagles gave Slay a new three-year, $50 million deal upon acquiring him, but that's a fair price for perennial Pro Bowl talent.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Signing Stefen Wisniewski
The Pittsburgh Steelers' signing of interior offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski was one of the most under-the-radar moves of the NFL offseason. For the Steelers, though, it was pure brilliance.
Pittsburgh lost longtime starting guard Ramon Foster to retirement in the offseason. Wisniewski might not be a long-term replacement, but he is an experienced nine-year veteran who has appeared in 134 NFL contests.
Wisniewski provides the Steelers with a capable starting option, and he comes at an absolute bargain. Pittsburgh signed him to a two-year, $2.9 million deal.
San Francisco 49ers: Trading for Trent Williams
With Joe Staley set to retire, the San Francisco 49ers faced a dilemma at left tackle. They solved it by trading for Trent Williams, and they may have gotten an upgrade in the process.
"Joe Staley is a really good tackle. Don't get me wrong," former 49ers and Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan said, per Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle. "But he ain't Trent Williams."
One would be forgiven for thinking a seven-time Pro Bowl tackle would cost a first-round draft pick and possibly much more. However, San Francisco was able to take advantage of Williams' rocky relationship with the Washington Redskins and acquire him for a 2020 fifth-round pick and a 2021 third-rounder.
Seattle Seahawks: Signing Bruce Irvin
The Seattle Seahawks defense struggled to get to opposing quarterbacks in 2019, finishing with just 28 sacks. Instead of overpaying to retain Jadeveon Clowney—who was up-and-down even when healthy last season—or shelling out for a premier free agent, Seattle brought back a familiar face in Bruce Irvin.
Irvin, who played in Seattle from 2012 to 2015, produced 8.5 sacks with the Panthers last season. He is still a capable edge-rusher at 32 years old, and the Seahawks were able to land him at a bargain.
Irvin inked a one-year, $5.5 million deal to come home. He is a great fit with coordinator Ken Norton Jr.'s defense and does not represent much of a financial risk.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Trading Up for Tristan Wirfs
The most exciting move of the Buccaneers' or any offseason has been the signing of six-time champion Tom Brady. It remains to be seen, however, if Brady can deliver on championship expectations in Tampa. If he struggles in a new home and a new offense, his two-year, $50 million contract won't look so valuable.
Regardless of how Brady plays, the Buccaneers needed a new right tackle in a bad way. Longtime starter Demar Dotson remains a free agent, and the Buccaneers replaced him with an elite prospect in Iowa's Tristan Wirfs.
While Tampa had to trade up to secure Wirfs, it only surrendered a fourth-round pick while receiving a seventh-rounder to go up a spot. It was a tremendous move that should help keep Brady upright and continue to pay dividends long after he is gone.
Tennessee Titans: Franchise-Tagging Derrick Henry
Running back Derrick Henry was unquestionably the centerpiece of the Tennessee Titans offense in 2019. He led the NFL with 1,540 rushing yards, added 206 receiving yards and scored 18 touchdowns. He also carried the Titans all the way to the AFC title game.
Retaining Henry in the offseason was a smart move for the Titans. Doing so without giving him a lucrative long-term commitment was even smarter.
While using the franchise tag was not exactly fair to Henry—who rightfully deserves financial security—it was the right move for the franchise. Investing heavily in running backs long-term rarely pays off, which is why the Rams cut Todd Gurley and why the Jets may be kicking themselves for signing Le'Veon Bell last offseason.
Trying to retain Henry, who had 518 carries over the past two seasons, on a year-to-year plan is the savvy play.
Washington Redskins: Drafting Chase Young
As previously noted, sometimes the obvious choice is the smart choice. However, Washington's decision to pull the trigger on Ohio state edge-rusher Chase Young at No. 2 wasn't quite as obvious as one might think. Young had 16.5 sacks in 2019 and was the best defensive prospect in the draft. However, Washington had opportunities to turn the second overall pick into a significant trade haul.
The Falcons, for example, tried to trade up and acquire Young, according to Fox Sports' Jay Glazer.
Instead, Washington stayed home, drafted Young and added a potential perennial All-Pro to its already impressive defensive front.
Washington may not yet have its quarterback situation settled, but a front seven that includes Young, Jonathan Allen, Montez Sweat, Daron Payne and Ryan Kerrigan is going to make life hell on opposing signal-callers.
All contract information via Spotrac.