Every NFL Team's Biggest Surprise of the 2020 Offseason
No NFL roster is the same year after year. Changes are made. The landscape shifts. What was once considered common knowledge is no more.
Imagine telling another fan last year that Tom Brady and Cam Newton would be leading different franchises in 2020. Nobody would've believed it.
Therein lies the beauty of the league's ever-changing tapestry and why it prides itself on parity. Things change very quickly, usually from the advent of surprise elements found throughout teams' rosters—whether through free-agent acquisitions, trades, draft picks, failed moves, retirements or an individual outperforming expectations.
Every franchise had one moment this offseason when everything changed. These surprises will help determine the direction of each squad and how the NFL, as a whole, forms during an unprecedented '20 campaign.
Arizona Cardinals: Somehow Trading RB David Johnson
Each member of the Arizona Cardinals has to be chuckling to themselves after the organization somehow acquired four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
"I didn't believe it. As soon as I was told, I went to YouTube and watched his highlights,” quarterback Kyler Murray said, per the Arizona Republic's Dana Scott. "Obviously, I know a lot about DeAndre, watching him for years. I didn't believe it."
While the Hopkins move sent shockwaves throughout the league, the most surprising aspect of the deal, at least for the Cardinals, was the front office's ability to unload David Johnson's contract. Four years ago, Johnson looked like the NFL's best running back before suffering a season-ending wrist injury during the 2017 campaign.
Still, Arizona gave Johnson a three-year, $39 million extension the following year. Last season, Johnson had $25.2 million in dead money if moved, per Spotrac. The Texans still willingly took on the ball-carrier's contract to the tune of an $11.2 million salary as part of the Hopkins deal. The Cardinals got much better at wide receiver and dumped a bad contract all at the same time.
Atlanta Falcons: Trading for TE Hayden Hurst
The Atlanta Falcons weren't in a position financially to re-sign two-time Pro Bowl tight end Austin Hooper this offseason. Instead, Hooper signed a four-year, $42 million free-agent deal with the Cleveland Browns. The Falcons responded by trading second- and fifth-round draft picks to the Baltimore Ravens for tight end Hayden Hurst and a fourth-round selection.
Hurst, whom the Ravens selected with the 25th overall pick in the 2018 draft, never found a role in the Ravens offense with fellow tight end Mark Andrews surpassing him on the depth chart to become quarterback Lamar Jackson's favorite target. Even so, Hurst should be a big part of the Falcons offense this fall.
"[Hurst] is an every-down tight end," Falcons head coach Dan Quinn told reporters. "He's over 260 pounds. He’s really urgent, really tough. My experience so far in practice is like this is a guy that puts in work. So far, when you see a player at that level working as hard as he is, he’s going to fit in just fantastic with this group."
The Falcons offense can keep rolling along with Hurst working the middle of the field to complement wide receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley.
Baltimore Ravens: Michael Brockers Not Signing
The Baltimore Ravens looked like they were building the biggest and baddest defensive front in professional football, but it didn't exactly work out that way.
First, the organization agreed to a free-agent deal with defensive lineman Michael Brockers. Then, general manager Eric DeCosta landed five-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Calais Campbell from the Jacksonville Jaguars for a measly fifth-round draft pick. The defense had it all, including Earl Thomas at the time, though the team explored whether it could get out of the safety's contract months ago, per the Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer and Jessica Anderson.
The combination of Brockers, Campbell and returning nose tackle Brandon Williams would have created a brick wall along the Ravens front.
But, the pandemic era threw things for a loop when Brockers was finally able to take a physical and ankle issues caused the agreed-upon deal to fall apart, according to ESPN's Jamison Hensley. Brockers in turn chose to re-sign with the Rams, while the Ravens targeted and signed Derek Wolfe.
Baltimore's defensive line is still an impressive group, and Campbell's acquisition remains a coup. But it's not quite what it could have been.
Buffalo Bills: Trading for WR Stefon Diggs
The impact of the Buffalo Bills' acquisition of wide receiver Stefon Diggs from the Minnesota Vikings can't be overstated. The Bills used first-, fifth-, sixth- and a future fourth-round draft pick to obtain the two-time 1,000-yard receiver.
What Diggs does for Buffalo's offense is obvious. He provides the team with a true No. 1 target to help with quarterback Josh Allen's continued development. Furthermore, the Bills become far more potent with John Brown and Cole Beasley being pushed down the food chain. Now, Buffalo's offense features three targets capable of consistently creating separation.
But Diggs' addition extends beyond the offense. The wide receiver will improve the defense, too.
"The competitive nature that he brings to our team I think is apparent and watching him go up against the likes of [cornerbacks] Tre' White and Levi Wallace, Josh Norman, just to name a few has been fun," head coach Sean McDermott told reporters.
Buffalo wanted to further address wide receiver this offseason and landed a true top option.
Carolina Panthers: Luke Kuechly's Retirement
The Carolina Panthers entered a rebuilding phase this offseason. They'll also enter the unknown without the team's previous defensive leader, Luke Kuechly, serving as the rock for the entire franchise. The five-time first-team All-Pro decided to retire this offseason.
Kuechly explained his choice to walk away:
"This decision has nothing to do with new coaches and Coach [Matt] Rhule. He's going to do a fantastic job ... but for me now is the right opportunity to move in a different direction. There's only one way to play this game since I was a little kid—play fast, play physical, play strong. And at this point, I don't know if I am able to do that anymore."
At 29 years old, Kuechly was still at the top of his game and arguably the best middle linebacker in football. The instincts he showed throughout his career were second to none. In eight seasons, the 2012 first-round pick registered 1,092 total tackles with no fewer than 102 in any campaign.
Now, the Panthers move forward with an extremely young defense. Shaq Thompson and Tahir Whitehead will try to fill the void left by Kuechly, though neither can adequately do so.
Chicago Bears: Not Making a Run at a Different QB
Personal relationships often dictate the direction of an NFL franchise. The Chicago Bears are a perfect example of an organization's unwillingness to step outside its comfort zone.
Chicago traded a compensatory fourth-round pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars for quarterback Nick Foles. Then, the organization reworked Foles' previous deal and signed him to a new three-year, $24 million contract.
Why? The answer is simple: The Bears wanted someone they were comfortable with to compete with Mitchell Trubisky instead of pursuing cheaper alternatives with much greater upsides.
Foles had previous working relationships with Bears head coach Matt Nagy, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo. He made the most sense on the surface as Chicago continues to work its way through a quarterback competition.
What about Cam Newton or Jameis Winston? Foles' salary-cap hit is $6.67 million this year after receiving $21 million guaranteed at signing, per Spotrac. Newton and Winston's combined cap hit this fall sits at just under $4 million.
The Bears could have made a real commitment to the quarterback position. Instead, they decided to go with the convenient choice.
Cincinnati Bengals: Being so Active in Free Agency
The Cincinnati Bengals aren't known for being big spenders. Usually, the team dabbles in free agency but never really makes gigantic splashes compared to others around the league. This year was different, though.
Cincinnati knew it had to address the roster, especially on defense, after finishing with the league's worst record last season, as general manager Duke Tobin told reporters:
"Every year we determine and decide how to attack the needs and holes that we have. Sometimes it's about maintaining players who are up on your team who are producing. Other years it's perhaps going out and finding free agents. ... When you are sitting where we were sitting, that team normally needs some infusion of free agents to fill some of the needs, and we were able to get that done."
The Bengals signed defensive tackles D.J. Reader and Mike Daniels, linebacker Josh Bynes, safety Vonn Bell, guard Xavier Su'a-Filo and cornerbacks Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander and LeShaun Sims to a combined $132 million in total contractual value.
Cleveland Browns: Signing Top TE and OT in Free Agency
The Cleveland Browns were extremely aggressive in free agency and signed the top available offensive tackle and tight end to fill significant needs in the team's lineup. Usually, a team would be quite happy with landing one of the top free agents at his respective position, let alone two. Once the contracts are factored into it, it's clear the Browns made two of the league's best offseason signings.
Tackle was the top priority after they fielded the league's worst tandem—Greg Robinson and Chris Hubbard —last season. Jack Conklin entered the new league year as the best available blocker after an outstanding 2019 for the Tennessee Titans. Conklin signed a team-friendly three-year, $42 million deal to join the Browns. The 26-year-old strong-side blocker ranks 10th among offensive tackles in average annual salary, and his yearly salary-cap hits never exceeds $15 million.
Tight end is a vital piece to Kevin Stefanski's offensive scheme, and the Browns weren't exactly sure what they had in 2017 first-round pick David Njoku.
Austin Hooper, meanwhile, went to the last two Pro Bowls. Hooper signed a four-year, $42 million deal. At the time, it made him the NFL's highest-paid tight end, but he's since been surpassed by the Los Angeles Chargers' Hunter Henry (on the franchise tag), San Francisco 49ers' George Kittle and Kansas City Chiefs' Travis Kelce.
Dallas Cowboys: Not Signing QB Dak Prescott Long-Term
The Dallas Cowboys couldn't have bungled the handling of Dak Prescott's contract any worse than they did.
First, the organization chose to sign a host of others to contract extensions before fully concentrating on the team's franchise quarterback. Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, linebacker Jaylon Smith, right tackle La'el Collins, running back Ezekiel Elliott and wide receiver Amari Cooper all got new deals, while the Cowboys slapped the franchise tag on Prescott.
Actions speak louder than words, and the organization never made its quarterback the top priority despite public comments to the contrary.
"Ultimately now we're going to have to figure out how to get this done," Executive Vice President Stephen Jones told reporters. "I'm more convinced than ever it will get done, but because of the moving parts we were dealing with with the virus and some of the other deals, which were not down the middle in terms of being normal, it just made for some challenges."
Jones' explanation serves as lip service and excuses. Now, the quarterback holds all of the leverage in negotiations since he can ride out the franchise tag, force Dallas to use the designation again next year and enter free agency in 2022 at 28 years old.
Denver Broncos: Signing RB Melvin Gordon III
Once two-time Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon III entered free agency, the Denver Broncos didn't seem like a landing spot with Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman already on the roster. Yet, the 2015 Los Angeles Chargers first-round draft pick signed a two-year, $16 million contract to join his former rival.
Gordon's addition basically pushes Freeman out of the rotation since the Broncos have plans for their top two backs.
"The fact that we have two running backs now that can be very explosive with the ball in their hands, whether you throw it or run it, I think is a good thing," offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur told reporters. "I really do think you need more than one running back. ... We're going to try to utilize both ... and try to utilize their skills."
Lindsay has been special since he signed as an undrafted free agent. However, NFL Network's Nate Palmer reported that Gordon is expected to be Denver's "bell cow" this fall. Lindsay will certainly have a significant role, but Gordon is a bigger and more physical back.
With both on the roster, Denver now features one of the game's better backfield tandems.
Detroit Lions: Trading CB Darius Slay
The Detroit Lions fielded the NFL's worst pass defense last season. Changes had to be made. But the idea of trading the team's best cover corner seems counterintuitive.
Detroit sent three-time Pro Bowl defensive back Darius Slay to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for third- and fifth-round draft picks. Granted, Slay wanted a new contract, and the Eagles provided him with a three-year, $50 million dollar extension.
While the the Lions' long-term plans didn't include the 29-year-old cornerback, the Eagles have already seen a difference in their secondary with his inclusion.
"He's a difference-maker for that defense," quarterback Carson Wentz told reporters of Slay's addition to the other side of the ball.
The Lions will proceed this season with free-agent acquisition Desmond Trufant, who incidentally has a higher salary-cap hit than Slay this fall at $7.3 million compared to $4.3 million, and this year's third overall pick, Jeff Okudah, now serving as Detroit's starting outside corners.
Green Bay Packers: Not Drafting a WR
When is a surprise not a surprise? When the surprising decision made by a team is so talked about that it's now being discussed by everyone, even publicly by those on the team.
"It's no secret, we were all expecting to have a receiver drafted," Davante Adams told reporters. "But that wasn't the case."
Beyond Adams, the Packers didn't have a wide receiver on the roster eclipse 35 receptions or 477 receiving yards. To put those numbers into perspective, they ranked 121st and 88th overall, respectively.
"They're back to square one," a longtime scout for an NFC team told ESPN's Rob Demovsky. "Same guys [as last season]."
Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Jake Kumerow, Darrius Shepherd and Equanimeous St. Brown, who is returning from a season-ending ankle injury, are those same guys. Devin Funchess was the only addition with the potential to make a difference, but Funchess missed all but one game last season with a broken collarbone.
The Packers organization's inability to place high-end talent around quarterback Aaron Rodgers is nothing short of mind-blowing.
Houston Texans: Trading WR DeAndre Hopkins
What are you doing, Bill O'Brien?!
It's been five months since the Houston Texans traded wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and a fourth-round draft pick to the Arizona Cardinals for running back David Johnson and a second- and future fourth-round draft pick. Some of us are still shaking our heads in bewilderment.
The head coach/general manager defended the move using Hopkins' request for a new contract as the reason behind it.
"DeAndre Hopkins was a great football player here. He made so many plays for us. We love DeAndre Hopkins," O'Brien told reporters. "But he had three years left on his deal and he wanted a raise. And we weren't going to be able to go in that direction."
Fun facts: The Texans didn't need to do anything about his contract while retaining one of the game's elite wide receivers, and the Cardinals have yet to sign Hopkins to a new deal. Hopkins' $12.5 million base salary this fall is less than the combined salary the Texans will pay Randall Cobb and Brandin Cooks, whom Houston acquired as potential replacements.
Indianapolis Colts: Trading for DeForest Buckner
Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard is judicious with the team's spending and isn't willing to overpay unless it's for the right talent. The Colts found one of those talents when they traded a first-round pick for defensive tackle DeForest Buckner.
"If we get to a point, and you can read this as you want to read it, a true difference-maker in the free-agent market, I'm good paying for," Ballard said in a radio interview of his approach (via the Indianapolis Star's Jim Ayello). "But they have to be a true difference-maker, unquestionably. Not the media saying he's a true difference-maker, the tape saying he's a true difference-maker."
Granted, Buckner wasn't a free agent, but the same philosophy still applies, especially when the Colts made the 26-year-old one of the league's top five highest-paid defensive linemen on an annual basis. Buckner is a complete defender and the new centerpiece of Indianapolis' defense.
"This was a big need for us and you have an elite player with elite character who fits our team, it was a no-brainer as far as I was concerned," head coach Frank Reich told reporters.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Not Trading Yannick Ngakoue
A shift in the Jacksonville Jaguars' approach occurred this offseason after owner Shahid Khan fired Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin last fall.
The organization moved on from quarterback Nick Foles, cornerback A.J. Bouye, wide receiver Marqise Lee and defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Marcell Dareus. Yet, Yannick Ngakoue remains on the roster despite repeated pleas for a trade.
"I want what's best for Yan," head coach Doug Marrone told reporters. "He's done everything I've ever asked him to do. I think he's an excellent football player. But now, it goes back to the business end. Where, at the end of the day, I hope everybody gets what they want."
So far this offseason, the 25-year old defender received the franchise tag, publicly demanded a trade, got into a Twitter spat with team co-owner Tony Khan and has yet to report to training camp. The Jaguars are seeking a "second-round pick and change" in a trade package, according to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero.
A move could happen as injuries occur during training camp, but the Jaguars are in a standoff with their franchise player with no end in sight.
Kansas City Chiefs: Drafting RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire
The Kansas City Chiefs accomplished the most important goals of their offseason by extending quarterback Patrick Mahomes, keeping defensive lineman Chris Jones and retaining the majority of the team's Super Bowl core. Anything beyond that is icing on the cake.
Although, the addition of another highly skilled offensive weapon certainly wasn't expected.
First, the Chiefs drafted a running back with the 32nd overall pick despite Damien Williams' presence on the roster (before the veteran opted out of the upcoming campaign). Not only did the Chiefs surprise with a running back selection, but the team didn't target whom many considered the top two prospects at the position in D'Andre Swift and Jonathan Taylor.
Instead, Kansas City chose Clyde Edwards-Helaire based on his ability to impact both phases of the game while seamlessly transitioning into the team's offensive scheme.
"I mean, he's stepped in, he's learned the offense. He's not making a lot of mistakes. He's playing fast," Mahomes told reporters. "He has incredible vision, I think that's what's been the biggest thing so far."
Las Vegas Raiders: Drafting CB Damon Arnette
Many lambasted the Las Vegas Raiders when the team chose cornerback Damon Arnette with this year's 19th overall draft pick. The cornerback was viewed as a massive reach by a franchise looking to address the cornerback position sooner than the overall board dictated.
"The reason he's not a reach is because of his grade in our system," general manager Mike Mayock told reporters. "Did I think we could have moved down maybe and still got him? Maybe, but we didn't want to lose him. What distinguishes him is No. 1, he can run. No. 2, he's tough as nails and when you talk about competitors."
Mayock should have stuck with his initial explanation and left it at that without acknowledging the Raiders could have possibly traded down and gotten the same prospect at a better value.
Two cornerback prospects—Jeff Okudah and CJ Henderson—were considered elite prospects in this year's draft. Obviously, Arnette wasn't included among them. Mayock and his staff will look great or worse in retrospect depending on how the rookie performs. Head coach Jon Gruden believes the first-year defensive back is on track to start.
Los Angeles Chargers: Trading LT Russell Okung for RG Trai Turner
Los Angeles Chargers general manager Tom Telesco probably had to pinch himself to make sure the Carolina Panthers' decision to trade five-time Pro Bowl guard Trai Turner for 32-year-old left tackle Russell Okung was real. It certainly was, and the two sides finalized the deal.
Yes, the Chargers traded a proven starter at a premium position—which has yet to be adequately filled—but the return on the deal couldn't have been better.
Turner is nearly six years younger and will cost the team $4 million less than if the Chargers kept Okung. Plus, the interior blocker is signed through the 2021 campaign, while the veteran tackle is scheduled to be a free agent after this season.
The left side of Los Angeles' offensive line may be a work in progress, but the right side is rock solid with center Mike Pouncey, Turner and right tackle Bryan Bulaga. As long as the left tackle spot isn't a complete disaster, the Chargers absolutely made the right decision to move Okung for Turner.
Los Angeles Rams: Rookie WR Van Jefferson Emerging as Top Target
The Los Angeles Rams have continually placed themselves in a difficult position, because the organization regularly trades top draft picks and usually has very little salary-cap space to make significant offseason moves.
As such, lesser investments move to the forefront since everyone understands the franchise is built around quarterback Jared Goff and defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Sure, the same was once said about running back Todd Gurley, too. But his struggles with a balky knee have been known for some time. Thus, the organization's decision to release the 2017 Offensive Player of the Year wasn't much of a surprise.
However, this year's 57th overall draft pick emerging so soon and possibly becoming a vital part of the passing game certainly would be. Obviously, Cooper Kupp is Goff's favorite target. But the Rams need someone to replace Brandin Cooks' production. Enter Van Jefferson.
Goff even told reporters he's noticing some similarities between the rookie and Kupp:
"Van has been really good, man. He's been really good. I say that cautiously because you never want these young guys to get too far ahead of themselves [laughs]. But he's been really impressive and done a good job. It reminds me a lot of when Cooper was a rookie, and he was just so far ahead of where a rookie kind of should be."
Miami Dolphins: Investing so Heavily in CB
An organizational belief exists within the Miami Dolphins to invest in their secondary. The franchise's aggressiveness in free agency and the draft certainly proves the point.
Byron Jones signed a five-year, $82.5 million free-agent contract to join the Dolphins. In doing so, the 27-year-old defensive back became the NFL's highest-paid cornerback in terms of total contract value.
A year earlier, the organization made Xavien Howard the game's highest-paid cornerback when he signed a five-year, $76.5 million contract extension.
On top of that, the Dolphins chose Auburn's Noah Igbinoghene with this year's 30th overall draft pick.
"This is a passing league as everyone says. You can never have enough corners," general manager Chris Grier told reporters after the Igbinoghene selection. "Brian [Flores] came from a really good defensive team when we hired him, and they had a lot of corners. At the end of the day, the way this league is offensively, it's a premium position and the more you have, the better."
There's investing in a position, and then there's investing the amount of assets the Dolphins have in their cornerback room. It's a different level and should drastically improve upon last year's 26th-ranked pass defense.
Minnesota Vikings: Placing Franchise Tag on Anthony Harris
The Minnesota Vikings didn't want to lose their entire secondary this offseason. OK, a couple of players would have remained, including Harrison Smith, but the amount of turnover the team faced was significant. As such, the front office made sure to retain its starting free safety, Anthony Harris, by employing the franchise tag.
Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander, Xavier Rhodes, Andrew Sendejo and Jayron Kearse all signed elsewhere after playing significant roles with the Vikings last season.
At first, it wasn't known whether Harris' price tag would be prohibitive for the Vikings. According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune's Andrew Krammer, Minnesota engaged in trade talks with the Cleveland Browns for Harris' services.
However, the franchise tag's $11.4 million hit became more palatable when the front office looked at its options, what it would likely lose in the secondary and the drop-off in play the unit would experience. The 28-year-old defensive back is the game's highest-graded safety in coverage since the start of the 2018 campaign, according to Pro Football Focus.
Now, the Vikings will have their terrific safety tandem together for one more season, though the organization's decision to franchise Harris will probably cost it next offseason when he's set to become a free agent.
New England Patriots: Signing Cam Newton
The arguments were all laid out before Cam Newton ever became a member of the New England Patriots.
"He wouldn't fit into the team's culture," some might say. Others would argue "the quarterback may not have the discipline to satisfy organizational standards."
Still, the Patriots signed the 31-year-old league MVP to a one-year contract with escalators that could reach $7.5 million.
While doubters certainly remain and will lie in wait until Newton's first misstep, he's been an excellent addition to the Patriots roster as the organization transitions away from Tom Brady after 20 years of service.
"Cam has a great energy about him and is one of those personalities that is infectious," quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch said, per ESPN's Mike Reiss. "He's come in every day with an excitement to work."
The biggest concern with Newton was never about his personality or work ethic. His injury history, especially after requiring shoulder and foot surgeries the last two years, is a scary proposition. The Patriots took a much-needed risk, added an elite talent to the game's most important position (if healthy) and could very well continue to roll along with a new-look offense.
New Orleans Saints: Signing Taysom Hill to a Big Contract Extension
Some may look at the New Orleans Saints quarterback room and be surprised at the presence of Jameis Winston, but the real shocker is what the organization was willing to pay Taysom Hill despite very little time at the quarterback position.
To take that wonderment one step further, the Saints envision Hill as Drew Brees' heir apparent even though the BYU product is 30 years old and has thrown just 13 career passes.
Hill signed a one-year, $16.3 million contract extension on top of this year's $4.6 million first-round tender, which certainly shows a commitment from the franchise beyond this upcoming season.
"I definitely view myself as a franchise quarterback," Hill told the Associated Press' Rob Maaddi.
Every quarterback should say as much, but the conversation gets far more interesting when decision-makers say similar things.
"We think he's going to be an outstanding NFL quarterback," head coach Sean Payton said during an interview with 105.7 The Fan's Jason La Canfora (via the New Orleans Advocate's Luke Johnson).
Fox Sports' Jay Glazer also reported that Payton believes Hill is ready to become the Saints' franchise quarterback once Brees retires (h/t Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith).
New York Giants: Placing Franchise Tag on Leonard Williams
The New York Giants' move to franchise-tag Leonard Williams may seem obvious in hindsight, but it really wasn't.
The organization sent a third- and future fifth-round draft pick to the New York Jets prior to the last season's trade deadline for the defensive lineman.
When the team's initial investment coupled with the price of this year's franchise tag ($16.1 million) is factored into the equation, the Giants shouldn't have been beholden to the sunk-cost fallacy since Williams hasn't developed into the consistently disruptive player (half a sack last season) he originally projected to be as the 2015 sixth overall draft pick.
"[The Giants] painted themselves into a corner with the acquisition [of Williams] in the first place," an anonymous NFL executive told ESPN's Jordan Raanan. "Is there upside as a rusher? You can argue that. But they are overpaying him."
Williams is a good football player. Is he a franchise-caliber performer? If the answer is no—and it should be—the Giants made a surprising move by placing the tag on an inferior talent.
New York Jets: Trading S Jamal Adams
The New York Jets finally bit the bullet and dealt All-Pro safety Jamal Adams and a 2022 fourth-round draft pick to the Seattle Seahawks for two future first-round picks, a '21 third-round selection and veteran safety Bradley McDougald. The animosity grew between Adams and the the Jets, specifically head coach Adam Gase, for months. The potential surprise is the move may actually work out in the Jets' favor.
Before going any further, the Jets can't fully replace Adams, though the treasure trove the team received in return certainly helps. Two promising safeties could make life much more bearable after trading the face of the franchise.
Marcus Maye could very well take over the role Adams left. Maye, who's primarily been a free safety and backline defender in Gregg Williams' system, has been playing strong safety during training camp.
"You don't know if he's [blitzing], you don't know if he's going to the middle field, you don't know if he's going to the half field, you don't know if he is going to play underneath coverage," Gase told reporters of Maye's versatility.
Third-round rookie Ashtyn Davis could then take over free safety, since he's a tremendous sideline-to-sideline athlete. Defensive backs coach Dennard Wilson told general manager Joe Douglas that Davis is "a sponge" and he loves coaching the rookie, per The Athletic's Connor Hughes.
Philadelphia Eagles: Drafting QB Jalen Hurts
The Philadelphia Eagles' decision to select Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts with this year's 53rd overall pick was mostly met with derision. Once the initial shock wore off, the Eagles' plan began to crystallize.
"We think that this is the most important position in sports, and we felt like this was a proven winner, a guy who is an incredible teammate. He's going to strengthen that quarterback room," general manager Howie Roseman told reporters after choosing Hurts.
Carson Wentz is the Eagles' franchise quarterback. That's not in question. However, his sustainability is.
Wentz's injury history is well-documented going back to his days as the North Dakota State Bison signal-caller. Nick Foles played a crucial role in the team's success the last few years, but he's no longer in Philadelphia after signing a free-agent deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars last year (and being subsequently dealt to the Chicago Bears).
Hurts has a built-in role as Wentz's long-term backup. But that shouldn't be the quarterback's only responsibility. The Eagles staff will likely use the athletic standout in a few offensive sub-packages. The Athletic's Zach Berman reported that Hurts continues to get a lot of red-zone work during training camp.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Not Drafting a QB
The Pittsburgh Steelers placed all of their chips for the 2020 campaign on Ben Roethlisberger's surgically repaired right elbow. The franchise didn't address quarterback in any meaningful way this offseason after last year's disastrous offensive performance with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges later leading the unit.
General manager Kevin Colbert even stated the team would consider the possibility in this year's draft.
"If any pick makes sense at any time, then of course we'll make those picks," Colbert told reporters prior to the event.
But nothing happened. The Steelers are practically in the same spot today as they were a year ago.
"I think, yes, when the organization supports you and has faith in you moving forward, it is always going to build your confidence," Rudolph said.
That's not really what happened, is it? Clearly, the Steelers weren't comfortable drafting any quarterbacks when they were on the board. Conversely, the lack of an addition under center doesn't necessarily show confidence in those already on the roster.
If Roethlisberger's elbow doesn't hold up for another season, Pittsburgh's promising season is probably sunk.
San Francisco 49ers: Re-Signing Arik Armstead
The idea that the San Francisco 49ers would retain Arik Armstead seems logical but only on the surface. In reality, the organization made a choice and general manager John Lynch chose to re-sign Armstead while trading defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts.
The decision can be construed as surprising since Buckner is an all-around better and more consistent performer.
Armstead experienced a breakout campaign last year with 10 sacks after managing only nine through his first four seasons. The 49ers picked Armstead over Buckner for two primary reasons: positional and contractual value.
"We talked about we wanted to do our best to keep this team together," Lynch told reporters. "It became apparent in the discussions with [Buckner] that that wasn't going to be a possibility along with keeping our team together as we wanted to do so."
San Francisco looked to the future and saw some possible financial hurdles. With Armstead accepting $4 million less than Buckner on an annual basis, he's a little easier to squeeze under the salary cap when other decisions must be made throughout the roster.
Seattle Seahawks: Trading for Jamal Adams
Imagine trading for Troy Polamalu during the prime of his Hall of Fame career. That's exactly how the Seattle Seahawks feel about Jamal Adams after sending first- and third-round draft picks, as well as veteran safety Bradley McDougald, to the New York Jets for the 24-year-old All-Pro.
"There's some real similarities," Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll told reporters on the Polamalu comparison. "Forget the stature part of it, the way they look. It's the nature that they play with is similar. They play with such amazing confidence that when they see things, they go get things."
An anonymous talent evaluator from another team told ESPN's Brady Henderson: "Perfect fit for their D."
The Seahawks lacked a real presence over the middle of the field after a neck injury derailed Kam Chancellor's career. McDougald started 39 games over the last three seasons and proved he's a solid, albeit unspectacular, contributor. Adams is on another level entirely. He can be used all over the field at either safety spot, in the box, blitzing the quarterback and covering the slot.
"Just watch him play," Carroll said. "Watch the juice that he brings. Watch the energy that he feels in playing this game that he loves and how that affects the people around him."
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Signing Tom Brady
Tom Brady is now the starting quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Yes, the move happened five months ago, but everyone still needs a moment to let the previous statement sink in since the great New England Patriots dynasty will no longer be led by the six-time Super Bowl-winning signal-caller.
Even players on the Buccaneers roster are trying to adjust to Brady's presence.
"He's the GOAT, on and off the field. It's crazy. He's a superstar—the most accomplished player in our game in history, and he's just like everybody else," wide receiver Mike Evans told reporters. "He just works extremely hard, he's always taking care of his body. He loves his family. He loves family time. He's just cool. He's a real down-to-earth guy."
As a team, the Buccaneers put together an offseason for the ages by signing Brady, trading for future Hall of Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski, retaining the majority of their roster and putting together an outstanding draft class.
Who I am kidding? Brady will dominate every conversation regarding Tompa Bay this fall and rightly so.
Tennessee Titans: Trading Jurrell Casey
Sometimes, you're left scratching your head even when someone within the league explains an unexpected decision, like when the Tennessee Titans traded five-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jurrell Casey to the Denver Broncos for a bag of peanuts...er, a seventh-round draft pick.
Mike Vrabel explained the logic behind the move during an interview on the Official Titans Podcast:
"Jurrell was an amazing player. The two years that I was here he was great for our football team, and there's tough decisions that you have to make every year. Just like we talk about with all decisions, whether it is on-field decisions or decisions about practice or personnel, we are trying to make them with the best interest of the football team in mind and that's really what it came down to."
How is parting with one of the league's consistent defensive linemen what's best for the Titans? The unit doesn't have an immediate replacement plan in place. Isaiah Mack offers some potential, but he's not Casey.
The move feels so much like a Bill Belichick-inspired decision from two of his disciples. Vrabel and general manager Jon Robinson wanted to move a guy a year too early instead of a year too late. Then again, the Titans probably could have gotten a seventh-round pick for Casey in another year or two.
Washington Football Team: QB Alex Smith Being Cleared
The thought of Alex Smith ever playing football again probably vanished for those other than the quarterback and his family, but he has a legit chance to do so.
The three-time Pro Bowl passer suffered a horrific leg injury during the 2018 campaign that eventually required 17 surgeries to correct. Despite everything Smith endured, the 36-year-old never gave up hope, worked his way back and was cleared for football activities by the Washington Football Team on Aug. 16.
"In the NFL world, I'm an old guy," Smith said during a team broadcast. "I'm a dinosaur. But in the bigger aspect of life, I'm 36 years old. I have three little kids. I have the rest of my life in front of me. Selfishly, I'm even doing this for them, as crazy as that sounds. I know if I can go out there and play quarterback, I can do anything else in life."
Prior to the clearance, head coach Ron Rivera told reporters that Smith would be placed "in the throes of this [quarterback] competition."
Smith already overcame so much just to get back on the field. He doesn't have to play another snap to be considered the 2020 NFL Comeback Player of the Year. If he does, Washington could be a much better team than expected.