Biggest Winners and Losers of 2020 NFL Offseason
The landscape of the NFL continues to change by the day.
Some of it has to do with the unorthodox nature of the offseason amid the coronavirus pandemic and the challenges the situation presented. Most of it, though, is par for the course—like when Cam Newton became a massive winner by inking a deal with the New England Patriots after a long wait in free agency.
The list of the biggest winners and losers of the 2020 offseason is written in pencil, not ink. Yet headline-worthy players and teams saw the needle move in one direction or the other, for better or worse.
Winner: Cleveland Browns
It's hard to hate what the Cleveland Browns were able to do this offseason.
The organization seemed to understand it needed to build around a developing Baker Mayfield, who went a disappointing 6-10 as a starter in 2019.
Cleveland paid $42 million over three years to land former Tennessee Titans right tackle Jack Conklin, a mauler in the running game who checked in with a strong 77.9 grade at Pro Football Focus last season.
The Browns then used the 10th selection on Alabama left tackle prospect Jedrick Wills Jr. While the offensive line let Mayfield get sacked 40 times last year, it helped Nick Chubb rush for 1,494 yards and eight scores and average 5.0 yards per carry, and the unit will now only get better.
That should help Mayfield improve his 59.4 percent completion rate and 22-21 touchdown-to-interception ratio, as he'll have more time to target weapons like Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. The Browns also added pass-catching tight end Austin Hooper in free agency.
Cleveland wasn't without losses, including linebacker Joe Schobert, but the team moved the needle in a big way in the offensive trenches and had a strong draft class. The Browns appear to be on the upswing.
Loser: Los Angeles Rams
The Los Angeles Rams didn't do a ton to inspire confidence they can rebound from last year's 9-7 effort and playoff whiff.
Part of that is due to their losses, headlined by linebacker Cory Littleton and Dante Fowler Jr. The former was the team's leading tackle last year (134 combined tackles) and good in coverage (nine pass breakups), while the latter put up 11.5 sacks.
The losses hardly stop there. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is gone, and offensive weapons Brandin Cooks and Todd Gurley are gone. While the Rams tried to mitigate some of these issues using 2020 second-round picks on running back Cam Akers and wideout Van Jefferson, their shaky offensive line went mostly unaddressed.
That's problematic for fifth-year quarterback Jared Goff, who signed a four-year extension worth $134 million last September with team that has just $6.2 million in cap space for 2020. He completed 62.9 percent of his passes last year but struggled while under pressure and mustered just 22 touchdowns against 16 interceptions.
When the gains don't outweigh the losses for a team seemingly trending in the wrong direction, the offseason sticks out as a loss.
Winner: Trent Williams
Trent Williams finally got his requested departure from the Washington football team in April.
The organization traded him to the San Francisco 49ers, with whom Williams will presumably get a long-term deal at some point given his importance as the new starting left tackle for a championship contender.
That is the biggest win for Williams. He's going from a franchise that has had two winning seasons since 2008 and is rebuilding around second-year passer Dwayne Haskins to a team coming off a Super Bowl appearance with one of the most complete rosters in the league.
Williams will be blocking for Jimmy Garoppolo, whose 69.1 percent completion rate with 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions helped fuel the Niners' 13-win campaign. And since Williams is only turning 32 this month, he's still in the middle of his prime and could be rewarded as such at a premier position contractually.
Williams is in the winners column for the foreseeable future.
Despite some feel-good vibes around the arrival of head coach Ron Rivera, Washington still seems like one of the NFL's biggest rebuilders.
The team—other than being bad enough to pick second overall and select edge-rusher Chase Young—didn't do anything too exciting in this year's draft. The organization was relatively quiet in free agency too, which seemed odd for a three-win team that still has $34.7 million in cap space.
But Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News reported in March that Washington made a play for Dallas Cowboys star wideout Amari Cooper, only for Cooper to stick around in Dallas on less money in order to compete for championships.
The sting of the above is obvious. So is the loss of Williams.
Other issues remain as well, such as the fact that Dwayne Haskins is heading into Year 2 with his second coaching staff (third head coach if we count interim coach Bill Callahan last year). A 35-year-old running back (Adrian Peterson) is Haskins' most reliable player, and he has little else in the way of weapons other than Terry McLaurin. Keep in mind his offensive line coughed up the fifth-most sacks (50) last season.
It is clearly a transitional year, and Washington didn't do much personnel-wise to move the needle.
Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Any team able to bring Tom Brady to town immediately classifies as a winner.
And the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made plenty of other moves to make sure that label stuck, giving Brady the best possible chance at a seventh Lombardi Trophy.
Priority No. 1 was clearly beefing up an offensive line that coughed up 47 sacks of Jameis Winston, who threw a league-high 30 interceptions in 2019. The front office signed Joe Haeg and used the 13th pick on Iowa offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs.
The Buccaneers didn't ignore defense either, assuring the returns of pass-rushers Jason Pierre-Paul (8.5 sacks in 2019) and Shaquil Barrett (league-leading 19.5) around the promising Devin White, the fifth overall pick in 2019.
There's also tight end Rob Gronkowski, who came out of retirement and was traded to Tampa Bay to join a star-studded cast of weapons headlined by Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Brady, after another 4,000-yard season with 24 touchdowns, has what is arguably one of his strongest supporting casts ever and has been able to work out with them ahead of training camp.
Loser: Remaining Big-Name Free Agents
Free agency hasn't been kind to some of the most notable names on the market this year.
This is no better example than Jadeveon Clowney. He's one of the NFL's premier defenders at the age of 27, yet he only recorded three sacks in 2019 and has had to lower his initial asking price, according to ESPN's Dianna Russini. It is, in a word, wild that a defensive star with an 87.3 PFF grade is still a free agent.
The same applies to a pressure creator like Everson Griffen. While he's 32 years old, he put up eight sacks last season and has recorded at least that number of sacks in five of his last six campaigns.
Slot cornerbacks have also had a rough go of it. Logan Ryan, 29, only allowed 68 catches on 103 targets last year and was again active against the run, tallying 113 tackles. Darqueze Dennard, 28, put up a strong grade of 72.2 at PFF, but he had a deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars fall through and has had a quiet market since.
While these players should eventually sign contracts, their deals will likely be less lucrative than initially expected, and they could be behind the eightball by the time they report to their teams.
Winner: Cam Newton
Look how quickly things can change.
The 2015 NFL MVP sat on the market until June and was firmly established as one of the offseason's biggest losers. Cam Newton watched other free-agent quarterbacks sign deals, including Tom Brady and Philip Rivers. Another team in need, the Chicago Bears, even traded for Nick Foles. That all happened before Joe Burrow went to the Cincinnati Bengals at No. 1 overall in April.
Then head coach Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots came calling.
Foxborough is the perfect landing spot for Newton, who presumably shouldn't have much of a struggle surpassing Jarrett Stidham for the starting role. The 31-year-old is an elite playmaker when healthy.
He completed 67.9 percent of his passes with 24 touchdowns and 13 interceptions across 14 games in 2018 before being shut down with a sore shoulder (he added another 488 yards and four scores as a rusher).
Newton is now on a team that went to a Super Bowl as recently as 2018 and hasn't failed to register double-digits wins since 2002. He'll get to play for a mastermind of a coach with a weapon like Julian Edelman and a stacked backfield.
If Newton proves himself on his one-year contract, he will be in line for a top-market deal—never mind whatever accolades and team accomplishments he's capable of picking up in 2020.
Loser: Potential QB Starters Turned Backups
Not every quarterback got as good of an opportunity as Newton.
In fact, several starter-caliber players had to settle in free agency.
Former Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, for example, signed a one-year deal with the Dallas Cowboys worth up to $7 million. But he'll certainly be backing up Dak Prescott despite his four playoff appearances and capable play amid poor circumstances.
Jameis Winston, displaced by Brady in Tampa Bay, will sit behind Drew Brees in New Orleans, but the Saints have stated multiple times that Taysom Hill is their quarterback of the future. Marcus Mariota, after losing the Tennessee Titans' starting job to Ryan Tannehill, joined the Las Vegas Raiders to sit behind Derek Carr.
It's possible some of these capable passers will get another chance to prove themselves after sitting for a year. But possible lack of vacancies, QB movement and a new rookie class—expected to be headlined by Clemson signal-caller Trevor Lawrence—could keep them regulated to the sidelines.