The NFL offseason is always full of surprises, but this past spring seemed to be a bit more shock-inducing than others in recent memory.
The New England Patriots won Super Bowl LI yet somehow got significantly stronger. The New York Jets flushed all their top veteran talent out the air lock. The Jacksonville Jaguars must have something special in the water, because somehow they keep landing big-name free agents.
These were just some of the more shocking developments that occurred following the end of last season. Now let’s take a look at them in some more detail as we explore the top-10 most stunning things that went down in the NFL offseason.
1. Jets completely tear down roster
In hindsight, the New York Jets are doing exactly what they must do to have any chance of a bright future. But boy, oh boy, the moves this team has made throughout the offseason to tear down the roster sent shockwaves throughout the league.
Here’s a list of the mainstay players the Jets either cut or didn’t re-sign as they reshaped their roster ahead of the 2017 season.
Jets 2017 offseason cuts:
— Andrew Siciliano (@AndrewSiciliano) June 12, 2017
In particular, the decision to release Nick Mangold was an absolute stunner. Even he was completely caught off guard. Then the Jets followed that one up by releasing David Harris, which was equally shocking.
We’d heard whispers that Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker could be on their way out, and Darrelle Revis was already assumed to be on his way out. But combine all these moves and you have a legitimate demolition project that will take some years to recover from.
2. Patriots somehow get even better
The New England Patriots won Super Bowl LI and somehow got significantly better on paper entering the 2017 NFL season.
In free agency, they added cornerback Stephon Gilmore, defensive end Lawrence Guy (underrated signing), Rex Burkhead and Andrew Hawkins. They also retained cornerback Malcolm Butler and linebacker Dont’a Hightower while adding receiver Brandin Cooks, tight end Dwayne Allen and defensive end Kony Ealy in trades.
For many NFL fans, these moves prompted an even deeper level of respect for what Bill Belichick continues to do on a yearly basis. For others, they generated a slightly different response.
— Kevin Hall (@KevinHall192) March 11, 2017
So much can and will happen between now and Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis. But on paper, it’s hard to imagine another team in the AFC taking down these Patriots, who appear destined to make another appearance in the big game.
3. Panthers opt to “protect” Cam Newton with left tackle Matt Kalil
There is absolutely no question that the Panthers needed to upgrade their offensive line, specifically on the blind side to protect quarterback Cam Newton.
However, bringing in first-round bust Matt Kalil wasn’t exactly the right way to go about doing that. By all accounts, Kalil has been downright awful since showing promise during his rookie season.
As if that wasn’t bad enough all by itself, Newton is coming off of shoulder surgery (still unable to throw as of minicamp) and has been abused throughout his career thanks to poor protection up front.
On top of that the Panthers did little else to improve their talent on the offensive line. Drafting Taylor Moton may end up as a good long-term move, but it does little to help Newton avoid being smashed to bits in the upcoming season.
General manager Dave Gettleman has long neglected to protect his top asset. He failed Newton once again this past offseason, hoping the addition of skill-position players would offset the lack of talent the Panthers feature up front. For Newton’s sake, we hope he was right, but at the same time we aren’t holding our breath.
4. 49ers go on free agency spending spree
The San Francisco 49ers were awful last season, winning just two games. While there was some impressive young talent on display, nobody would argue that this team doesn’t have a lot of work ahead of it before featuring a championship-contending roster.
Specifically on offense, the 49ers featured in abysmal level of talent at the skill positions. Given the futility we witnessed last year, it seemed inevitable that the 49ers would need at least three to four years to build up an offense capable of playing at the highest level.
Don’t tell that to John Lynch, the team’s rookie general manager.
In his first year running things, Lynch doled out 14 contracts worth nearly $150 million, and that doesn’t even count what Elvis Dumervil is being paid on his two-year deal.
Pierre Garcon’s five-year deal is worth $47.5 million. Malcolm Smith’s five-year deal is worth $26.5 million. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk landed a four-year deal worth $21 million, the most a fullback has ever been paid in the NFL.
Now, a lot of that money will never be paid out. Many of the contracts that were signed were front-loaded.
But that doesn’t take away the shock factor of the incredible amount of spending this team did. Especially considering that even in our most generous estimation, the 49ers will be lucky to win six or seven games this upcoming season.
5. Bears sign Mike Glennon, trade up for Mitch Trubisky
Chicago Bears shocked everyone during the draft, including the guy they ended up selecting at number 3 overall, Mitch Trubisky.
There are a couple of different angles that make this story so interesting.
First, the Bears spent a fair amount of money bringing in free agent quarterback Mike Glennon and March.
Secondly, the Bears spent a crazy amount of draft capital (details here) to move up one spot in a trade with the 49ers. The second part is all the more absurd because the 49ers absolutely duped the Bears into thinking other teams wanted to move up for that pick.
When it’s all said and done, perhaps the Bears will be lauded rather than trolled (by NFL teams, on more than one occasion) for their decision to trade up for Trubisky. That part of the story has yet to be told.
What we do know for certain is that Chicago’s decisions came as a big shock to the rest of the league, especially because the consensus is that Trubisky won’t be ready to play for at least one full season.
6. Chiefs cut Jeremy Maclin
Talk about a move that came out of nowhere. There were not even whispers to suggest Jeremy Maclin would be cut by the Kansas City Chiefs ahead of the 2017 season.
Sure, he had a down season in 2016, somewhat hampered by injuries. But we’re still talking about a 29-year-old who, in the two years prior, combined to catch 172 passes for 2,406 yards and 18 touchdowns.
That kind of production is not easy to come by. And the Chiefs don’t exactly have a glut of talent at the wide receiver position. So it was quite stunning when Maclin suddenly became a free agent. On a side note, it was even more stunning to learn Maclin found out about the move through his voice mail — stay classy, Chiefs.
It didn’t take long for the Baltimore Ravens to swoop in and snag Maclin off the free agency list. He’ll no doubt have a huge season as one of the primary receiver for Joe Flacco, who needed a reliable pair of hands.
7. Saints add Adrian Peterson, draft Alvin Kamara
The New Orleans Saints featured the NFL’s top-ranked offense last season, and running back Mark Ingram had a career year. Rushing for 1,043 yards, averaging 5.1 yards per carry, adding another 319 yards on 46 receptions and scoring a total of 10 touchdowns, he was outstanding.
So it was pretty darn shocking when the Saints signed Adrian Peterson right before the draft. Many have wondered if Peterson will be a good fit considering how much the Saints pass the ball and because Ingram had such a great year in 2016.
Though, that’s not the extent of the shock factor. After landing Peterson, New Orleans doubled down, selecting Alvin Kamara out of Tennessee in the third round of the draft.
Suddenly, a team that features a quarterback who has the NFL record for most seasons throwing for more than 5,000 yards is going to feature a three-headed monster behind Drew Brees. This might be just what the doctor ordered for the Saints, who struggle defensively and need to control games a bit more because of that. But nobody saw this series of moves coming.
8. Raiders’ move to Vegas almost unanimously approved
In a move that seemed impossible until very recently, the Oakland Raiders will be moving to Las Vegas in 2020 (when the stadium will reportedly be ready).
That, by itself, was pretty stunning. And a portion of Raiders Nation hasn’t taken the news well. But what’s even more stunning is that only one NFL owner voted against the proposal that’s sending the Raiders to the desert in Nevada.
Led by Jerry Jones, who made a strong push for Mark Davis to land the votes he needed, 31 owners voted yes. Only Stephen Ross, owner of the Miami Dolphins, voted against the proposal. His reasoning is hard to argue against, too, even if it goes against the status quo of professional sports dealings (more on that here).
Now, we can never say never, but it sure seems like the door for the Raiders to relocate back to Los Angeles or Oakland will now be forever closed. The amount of money being sunk into the new stadium in Vegas will be like a millstone around the neck of Davis and his Raiders for the foreseeable future.
Whether that ends up being a positive or negative thing for the organization and the NFL as a whole remains to be seen.
9. Bengals lose top linemen, draft John Ross No. 9 overall
For the second year in a row, the Cincinnati Bengals watched top offensive starters walk (run?) away in free agency.
Following an AFC North-winning 12-4 season, they lost receivers Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones. It was hardly surprising that Andy Dalton threw for a career-low 18 touchdowns after losing two of his top targets.
Then this past offseason, Cincinnati lost offensive guard Kevin Zeitler to the Cleveland Browns and left tackle Andrew Whitworth to the Los Angeles Rams.
And this is after the Bengals had their worst season (6-9-1) in years.
Then during this past draft, Cincinnati opted to spend the No. 9 overall pick on oft-injured speedster receiver John Ross. By itself, that move was stunning. Some teams reportedly took Ross off their boards because of his history of being injured. There were plenty of other players that were left on the board at that time that would have been safer picks, and already Ross is dealing with an injury this offseason that could leak into training camp.
Making matters worse, the Bengals didn’t do anything to upgrade their offensive line.
In a year that we saw the rest of the AFC North take positive strides to get better, it was stunning to see the Bengals moving the other direction.
10. Top free agents continue flocking to Jacksonville
The past couple of years, Jacksonville has somehow been the hot spot for high-priced free agents.
The Jaguars spent huge sums to bring in the likes of Malik Jackson, Kelvin Beachum, Tashaun Gipson and others on board before the 2016 season. Yet still Jacksonville went 3-13, finishing among the worst teams in the league.
So, it was pretty stunning that, even after yet another season of putrescence, top free agents still viewed Jacksonville as an attractive destination this past offseason.
Former Houston Texans cornerback A.J. Bouye led the way, hauling in a stunning five-year deal worth up to $67.5 million. Former Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell reached a four-year deal worth up to $60 million, and former Dallas Cowboys safety Barry Church took off on a four-year deal worth up to $26 million.
Is it just the money these players are seeing, or is it possible they really think something good is about to happen? If it’s the latter, then Blake Bortles better have learned his lesson about turnovers. Because on paper, this team has what appears to be a legitimate chance at making a playoff run. Especially after adding Leonard Fournette to be a battering ram behind Bortles.
We look forward to seeing what the Jags can do. And we look forward to seeing if free agents continue to flock to Jacksonville in the coming years.