Ranking the 7 Best Moves of the 2022 NFL Offseason

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystMay 9, 2022

Ranking the 7 Best Moves of the 2022 NFL Offseason

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Where to begin? This amount of player movement seen during this year's NFL offseason is hard to comprehend.

    A Super Bowl-winning quarterback, a former league MVP, a former Defensive Player of the Year and a litany of elite wide receivers are now with new teams. They're just the starting point with the swath of additions that occurred since the beginning of the new league year.

    Those mentioned should help their respective situations, though some moves proved to be better than others based on potential impact and cost.

    For example, the acquisitions of Deshaun Watson to the Cleveland Browns, Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders and Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins were excellent on-field additions. However, their respective teams paid the price to acquire such high-profile performers.

    Others found better value based on availability within a volatile market. Seven moves stick out as the best that a whirlwind offseason had to offer.

7. Giants Select Kayvon Thibodeaux, Evan Neal with Top-10 Picks

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    Noah K. Murray/Associated Press

    More uncertainty swirled at the top of this year's draft class than any in recent memory. No standout quarterback deserved to be selected among the top-15 picks, let alone No. 1 overall. Another player at a different premium position didn't run the table as the class' premier athlete, as Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney once did. 

    However, two names tended to be near the top of every board throughout the process, and both landed with the New York Giants. The initial portion of the draft couldn't have fallen better for new general manager Joe Schoen and head coach Brian Daboll. 

    New York chose Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux and Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal with the fifth and seventh overall picks, respectively. 

    "At one point, Neal and Thibodeaux were both considered potential top overall picks, and the Giants ended up with both of them," an anonymous executive told The Athletic's Mike Sando. "They are both premier positions, so it is hard to fault them. Assuming they could not trade back, they did well with those two."

    In fact, Bleacher Report's Scouting Department ranked Thibodeaux and Neal as the class' top two overall prospects on the final draft board. No team had a better start to its 2022 draft, and first-round picks are where difference-makers are generally found. 

    Thibodeaux can immediately provide an edge presence alongside an already tough defensive front, while Neal can bump over to right tackle, opposite Andrew Thomas, and give the Giants a strong pair of bookend tackles. 

6. Los Angeles Rams Sign WR Allen Robinson

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Rams could have sat back and basked in their Super Bowl title without making the necessary moves to get better. 

    The organization chose to go a different route at wide receiver instead of trying to re-sign Odell Beckham Jr., who is still recovering from a torn ACL he suffered in Super Bowl LVI. The Rams pursued a bigger, slightly younger and currently healthier wide receiver in free agency, signing Allen Robinson to a three-year, $46.5 million deal. 

    Robinson entered free agency as the top available wide receiver. When healthy and paired with a competent quarterback, he is fantastic at working outside the numbers and down the field. He still posted back-to-back 1,100-plus-yard receiving campaigns before missing five games last season with a balky hamstring. 

    "They got a bigger player in Robinson, more range when you throw fades, and you got a guy who doesn't have a bad knee," an executive told Sando. "That is great for the Rams because they get a draft pick (as part of the Robert Woods trade) and they get a little upgrade in some regards."

    From a financial perspective, Robinson didn't come close to some of the numbers thrown around the last two-and-a-half months. The eight-year veteran is now the 21st highest-paid wide receiver based on average annual salary. Even if the high-profile trades with accompany big-money deals are taken out of the question, Chris Godwin, Mike Williams, Brandin Cooks and Christian Kirk received significantly more for their respective extensions or free-agent deals. 

    Apparently, the Rams got a Super Bowl discount while acquiring another standout target for Sean McVay's offense. 

5. Cincinnati Bengals Load Up on Offensive Line Help

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    Roger Steinman/Associated Press

    The Cincinnati Bengals season ended later than expected, though Joe Burrow was once again facing pressure when it mattered the most. 

    In Super Bowl LVI, Burrow faced the third-worst quick pressure rate (under 2.5 seconds) in the last 16 years, per Pro Football Focus' Kevin Cole. During the regular season, Burrow endured the most sacks by any starting quarterback with 51. 

    The organization had to do something to protect its franchise player and finally committed to drastically improving what had been one of the game's worst offensive lines.

    Cincinnati signed Alex Cappa, Ted Karras and La'el Collins as free agents. The trio should automatically upgrade the right side with Karras at center, Cappa at right guard and Collins at right tackle. While the Bengals certainly paid each handsomely, their deals aren't exorbitant. 

    Collins is now the game's eighth-highest-paid right tackle in average annual salary with only $5 million in practical guarantees. Cappa is the 14th-highest at guard, and his $11 million in practical guarantees barely cracks the top 20. Karras ranks 12th among centers with only $5 million in practical guarantees. 

    So, the Bengals made a legitimate effort to upgrade their front five and did so without having to break the bank.

    "We have three new guys that know how to set the tone," offensive line coach Frank Pollack said, per Geoff Hobson of the Bengals' official site. "Pros that know how to prepare and practice." 

4. Las Vegas Raiders Sign Edge Chandler Jones

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    Chandler Jones has been one of the NFL's best pass-rushers for nearly a decade, and he's now in the loaded AFC West with the Las Vegas Raiders. 

    The four-time Pro Bowl selection eclipsed 10 or more sacks in seven of the last nine seasons. He averaged 12 sacks per year in his six seasons with the Arizona Cardinals, which included an injury-marred 2020 campaign where he managed only a single quarterback takedown. 

    The new regime of general manager Dave Ziegler and head coach Josh McDaniels saw a pathway toward counteracting the explosive offenses in the division.

    The Raiders needed a consistent threat opposite Maxx Crosby who fit the system. The team flipped Yannick Ngakoue to the Indianapolis Colts so he could follow Gus Bradley and continue to play in his scheme. Jones will slide seamlessly into Patrick Graham's defense after playing for the coach during his first four seasons with the New England Patriots. 

    "He's got a great feel for the different feel for the different people that are protecting," McDaniels told reporters.

    "I know he's into his 30s, but I see Chandler as a guy who's still playing at a really high level, and he's playing at that level on all three downs, which I love."

    The Buffalo Bills signed Von Miller to a six-year, $120 million contract. Miller is a year older than Jones, who signed a three-year, $51 million deal. The Raiders landed a proven, productive edge-rusher to harass Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Russell Wilson yet didn't need to pay him among the top 12 in average annual salary, signing bonus or practical guarantees.

3. Denver Broncos Trade for QB Russell Wilson

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    AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images/Getty Images

    A true franchise quarterback is invaluable. Movement behind center remains rare, especially with some of the biggest names, but sometimes situations dictate a change. 

    Russell Wilson no longer wanted to be with the Seattle Seahawks, as the setup became untenable between the quarterback and the team. 

    "I didn't initiate it," Wilson told reporters after being dealt to the Denver Broncos. "It was definitely mutual along the way. There has definitely been a lot of conversations. It hasn't been my initiating anything. But it is what it is."

    The Broncos ended up giving up fewer high-end assets to acquire Wilson than Cleveland did for Deshaun Watson. 

    Denver dealt a pair of first-round selections, a pair of second-round picks, a fifth-round selection and quarterback Drew Lock, tight end Noah Fant and defensive lineman Shelby Harris for Wilson and a fourth-round pick. Whereas, the Browns surrendered three first-round picks, a third-round selection and two fourth-round picks for Watson and a sixth-round pick.

    An argument can be made that Denver technically gave up more assets, though the overall value of those is negated by the obvious burden the Browns undertook when they chose to trade for an individual who still faces 22 civil cases for sexual misconduct. An extra first-round pick, while also handing the quarterback the most guaranteed money in NFL history, is a hefty price to pay, and the optics are even worse. 

    The Broncos paid up but got a proven starter in a division where a deal had to happen for the club to remain competitive.

2. Cleveland Browns Trade for Amari Cooper

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Traditionally, four positions—quarterback, left tackle, edge-rusher and cornerback—held a premium. This offseason, a fifth premium position emerged based on the market: wide receiver.

    The Cleveland Browns got ahead of the sweeping change when general manager Andrew Berry acquired Amari Cooper from the Dallas Cowboys. In turn, the Browns sent a fifth-round pick and swapped sixth-round selections. The Cowboys received a minimal return because Cooper previously signed a $100 million contract at $20 million annually. 

    For comparison, the following deals for wide receivers came together after Cooper's acquisition: 

    • The Las Vegas Raiders traded first- and second-round picks for Davante Adams and then signed him to a new deal at $28 million annually. 
    • The Miami Dolphins traded first-, second-, two fourth-round picks and a sixth-round selection for Tyreek Hill, who then signed a new deal at $30 million annually. 
    • The Philadelphia Eagles dealt first- and third-round picks to the Tennessee Titans for A.J. Brown, who signed a contract extension at $25 million annually. 

    Cooper remains third in total contractual value over five years. Otherwise, he's tied for eighth in average annual salary and sixth in practical guaranteed money. His actual salary-cap charge over the next three seasons never ranks higher than sixth while he wears a Browns uniform. 

    Cleveland moved on from both Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry in the last six months. Cooper gives the Browns a true WR1, and the team acquired him at what turned out to be quite the bargain. Berry showed tremendous foresight in reading the market, and the decision to trade for Cooper looks better with each passing day. 

1. Indianapolis Colts Trade for QB Matt Ryan

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    The Indianapolis Colts pulled off the near-impossible with the acquisition of veteran quarterback Matt Ryan for just a third-round pick.

    Indianapolis' meltdown late last season created an identity crisis within the organization, and the team knew it had to move on from Carson Wentz. According to the Indianapolis Star's Nate Atkins, a lack of faith and trust in Wentz's game became apparent as the season progressed, particularly with a potential playoff berth on the line. 

    The Colts knew they had to go in another direction and did so by trading Wentz and this year's year's second- and seventh-round picks to the Washington Commanders for second- and third-round picks, as well as a conditional 2023 third-round selection.

    Once Ryan chose to leave Atlanta because of the Falcons' pursuit of Deshaun Watson, the Colts struck a deal to acquire the 36-year-old for their original third-round selection, which was lower than the one they acquired from Washington in the Wentz deal. Also, Ryan's salary-cap hit this season is $8.3 million less than Wentz's. 

    Ryan may not be the quarterback he once was. He certainly isn't near Watson or Russell Wilson when they're on their game. Yet, the Colts shuffled through multiple starters, admitted their mistake with Wentz and somehow came out of their quarterback purgatory much better off while spending next to nothing to do so. 

    "The owner (Jim Irsay) was living in fairy-tale land for two decades with Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck," a league executive told Sando. "Then they had five different starters in five years, and it was, welcome to the rest of the league, sucker. They should be like Pittsburgh, scrambling for trash to get them through a season. Then Matt Ryan falls right into his lap. Unbelievable."