Ranking the 5 Best Moves of the 2021 NFL OffseasonApril 5, 2021
Ranking the 5 Best Moves of the 2021 NFL Offseason
The offseason brings new hope across the NFL. Even with a depressed salary cap, teams made bold moves to upgrade or improve weak areas on the roster. Some of those acquisitions will have a tremendous effect on the 2021 season.
While a majority of offseason transactions make sense as front offices address glaring needs, the best moves seem ideal because of schematic fit, the value of a contract for an impact player, or the caliber of talent acquired in a trade or signing.
Based on those factors, we've ranked the top five moves of the 2021 offseason. Each selection will provide a notable impact on the upcoming campaign and beyond.
5. Giants Add Go-To WR in Kenny Golladay
The New York Giants signed arguably the best wideout from the open market. Despite a down 2020 campaign because of hamstring and hip injuries, Kenny Golladay has become an accomplished big-play target through four seasons with the Detroit Lions.
Golladay accumulated 2,253 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns between the 2018 and 2019 campaigns with a Pro Bowl nod in the latter term. He's a dominant receiver because of his physical nature and ability to box out defenders for contested catches.
Quarterback Daniel Jones can look to Golladay as his go-to target with Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton rounding out a balanced wide receiver unit.
Last year, Big Blue's passing offense tied with the New England Patriots for the fewest touchdowns. At 6'4", 213 pounds, Golladay will likely see plenty of opportunities to score when the Giants move deep into their opponent's territory. New York should also have more trips inside the red zone with running back Saquon Barkley set to return from a torn ACL that cost him 14 games in 2020.
The Giants' splashy acquisition at wideout also puts Jones on the clock. If the third-year quarterback cannot optimize the talent of a pass-catcher who averages 16.8 yards per reception, the team may have to consider a change under center.
Golladay has the ability to improve the offense now and give the team clarity about its quarterback moving forward.
4. Jets Land Ascending Pass-Rusher Carl Lawson
As a defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers, New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh put together game plans that elevated the pass-rushing talent across the front line. His defense tied for fifth in sacks (48) and ranked sixth in quarterback pressures (172) for the 2019 term.
Saleh has the foundational pieces to build another stout and aggressive defensive line with the Jets. Gang Green signed Carl Lawson, who will join Quinnen Williams within an even-man front.
The Jets paid a hefty price for Lawson, signing him to a three-year, $45 million deal with $30 million guaranteed, though the young pass-rusher could reach new heights as an every-down defender.
In 2018, Lawson tore his ACL seven games into the campaign, but he played fewer than 44 percent of the defensive snaps in two out of his three relatively healthy seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. With his new salary, the 25-year-old will likely take the field for a lion's share of the snaps at defensive end.
This past season, Lawson recorded the second-most quarterback hits (32). He's primed for a breakout showing under Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich.
Kenny Golladay cannot perform at his best without solid quarterback play, but the Jets can unleash Lawson on passing downs. He's beat offensive linemen in one-on-one situations for sacks and pressures. Because another player will have a significant impact on the production of the Giants' high-profile free-agent investment, the Jets' acquisition takes the No. 4 spot.
3. Raiders Address Woeful Pass Rush, Sign Yannick Ngakoue
The Las Vegas Raiders won't publicly say they made a mistake with Clelin Ferrell as their choice at No. 4 in the 2019 draft, but the team's decision to spend $26 million in guarantees (for injury) on Yannick Ngakoue suggests the defense needs pass-rushing help.
Ferrell has shown flashes and plays well against the run, but that's not enough for a top-five pick at his position.
With Ngakoue added to the fold, the Raiders can shift Ferrell inside where he doesn't have to record a high number of sacks and pressures. Meanwhile, the Raiders can assign that responsibility to a proven edge-rusher who makes a living collapsing the pocket.
Through five seasons, Ngakoue has logged 45.5 sacks. Along with defensive end Maxx Crosby, he'll raise the Raiders' pass-rushing numbers to a respectable level, which bodes well for a defense that must face quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert twice every year.
In 2020, the Silver and Black tied for 14th in quarterback pressures (147) but finished with the fourth-fewest sacks (21). Based on Ngakoue's track record, he's going to close that gap. Furthermore, the Pro Bowler has a year of experience under defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, dating back to their time with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2016.
The Raiders deserve some credit in terms of Ngakoue's contract value. He's a more proven pass-rusher than Carl Lawson of the New York Jets. Yet Vegas will pay less in guaranteed money ($30 million to $26 million) and average salary ($15 million to $13 million) for its new edge-rusher. With that in mind, this acquisition ranks third among the best moves.
2. Rams Swap QB Jared Goff for Matthew Stafford
Nearly 17 months after the Los Angeles Rams signed Jared Goff to a four-year extension, they traded him to the Detroit Lions with two first-round picks and a third-rounder for Matthew Stafford.
Underneath the surface, tension bubbled up between Goff and Rams head coach Sean McVay, which preceded the split, per ESPN's Lindsey Thiry. As a result, Los Angeles swung for the fences on an older quarterback who seems like a better fit with the team's lead skipper.
According to Thiry, McVay criticized Goff for his turnovers in front of the team before going public with his gripes following a Week 12 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
"Our quarterback has to take better care of the football," McVay said to reporters.
In 2020, Goff threw 13 interceptions while Stafford threw 10 picks. The latter has recorded 10 or fewer interceptions in four of the last five campaigns.
At 33 years old, Stafford has a great deal of experience and knows how to avoid unnecessary turnovers. His decision-making won't kill offensive drives on his side of the field, which keeps a top-notch defense out of poor field positioning.
Los Angeles made a super aggressive move for short-term gain, but McVay doesn't want to see his playoff-caliber team beat itself.
The Rams' quarterback swap could elevate them from wild-card status to division leader. Yannick Ngakoue alone cannot do that for the Las Vegas Raiders.
1. Colts Acquire QB Carson Wentz from Eagles
The Indianapolis Colts went into the offseason without a clear-cut starter at quarterback. Philip Rivers chose to retire, which left the team with two unproven options in 2020 fourth-rounder Jacob Eason and Jalen Morton.
The Colts acquired Carson Wentz from the Philadelphia Eagles after his abysmal 2020 campaign. He threw 16 touchdowns and 15 interceptions this past season.
In his final campaign with the Eagles, Wentz took the most sacks across the league (50) behind an unstable offensive line. Center Jason Kelce is the only starter within that group who suited up for all 16 contests.
Wentz has his faults, though. At times, he holds on to the ball for a big play downfield, which increases the probability of a sack or ill-advised throw. He must learn to get the ball out quickly to his intermediate targets.
Nevertheless, Wentz landed in an ideal spot. Although Colts left tackle Anthony Castonzo retired, the unit will return the rest of its starters. General manager Chris Ballard could address the void on the perimeter with a high draft pick.
Wentz reunites with his former offensive coordinator, Frank Reich, who's the head coach and play-caller in Indianapolis. If anyone can help the Pro Bowl quarterback adjust his decision-making, it's someone who's had prior success with him.
While working with Reich, Wentz finished the 2017 season with the league's highest QBR (78.5), throwing 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Wentz can trust his top option in the short passing game. Running back Nyheim Hines has hauled in 170 passes for 1,227 yards and six touchdowns through three seasons.
If Wentz bounces back, the Colts have their long-term solution at quarterback, which isn't the case for the Los Angeles Rams and 33-year-old Matthew Stafford.
Secondly, the Colts acquired a younger signal-caller who's in his prime and only cost them a third-round pick and a conditional second-rounder that would become a first if Wentz plays 75 percent of the snaps or 70 percent with a playoff berth, per NFL Network's Mike Garafolo.
Based on what the Colts gave up in the trade for Wentz and the potential long-term impact of the deal, they've made the best move this offseason thus far.
Player contracts courtesy of Over The Cap.