Now that pretty much all the big-name free agents have signed and a ton of trades have taken place around the NFL, teams have started to focus on the coming NFL Draft. It’s the best part of the offseason for squads looking to build long-term contenders.
On a completely different note, some teams have already improved leaps and bounds. Take the Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers as two case studies. Heck, contenders such as the Jacksonville Jaguars and Los Angeles Rams can be coupled into this group.
So what is the best move we’ve seen from each NFL team thus far this offseason? We’ll take a look at that here.
Kansas City Chiefs: Trading Alex Smith
It’s not that Kansas City traded Smith. We all knew this was coming. Instead, the team found a way to get a king’s ransom from Washington for the aging Pro Bowler. Picking up a third-round selection isn’t too shabby in and of itself. Adding a 23-year-old corner in Kendall Fuller coming off a tremendous sophomore campaign was just icing on the cake.
By moving on from Smith, the Chiefs are prepared to start a new era with Patrick Mahomes under center. They’ve also made moves to get younger on the defensive side of the ball. Adding Fuller and a valuable third-round pick to the mix will only play more into the narrative that Kansas City is in a transitional period. But it goes without saying that the talent is most definitely here.
Los Angeles Chargers: Signing Casey Hayward to extension
Considering what we saw lesser cornerbacks receive in free agency, the three-year, $36 million extension Hayward signed with Los Angeles is an absolute coup for the team. Hayward, 28, recorded 40 tackles, 22 passes defended and four interceptions in an All-Pro caliber performance this past season.
In fact, Pro Football Focus graded him out as a top-five overall player in the NFL last season. Not only that, Hayward finished the season having yielded a 58.6 opposing passer rating when targeted. He’ll continue to team up with Jason Verrett to form one of the better cornerback duos in the game.
Oakland Raiders: Signing Rashaan Melvin
In an offseason that has seen Oakland sign veterans with very minimal upside, Melvin is an exception to the rule. He acted as the Colts’ top cornerback last season, recording 36 tackles, 13 passes defended and three interceptions while yielding the seventh-lowest passer rating among corners in the game. At 6-foot-2, Melvin is also the more physical cornerback that new Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther likes.
It’s also pretty big time that Oakland was able to land Melvin on a one-year, $6.5 million deal during a free agent period that saw NFL teams back up Brinks trucks for cornerbacks. He’s now going to take over as the No. 1 cover guy for a Raiders defense that gave up a 101.8 quarterback rating last season.
Denver Broncos: Signing Case Keenum
Denver finally has a plan at quarterback. After GM John Elway failed this team big time at the game’s most-important position over the past couple seasons, there’s going to be a sense of actual consistency under center at Mile High next season. Keenum is coming of a tremendous 2017 campaign with Minnesota that saw him complete nearly 68 percent of his passes with 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions en route to leading the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game.
What makes this deal so special for the Broncos is that it guarantees Keenum only $25 million and has an out with an $11 million cap savings following the 2018 season. This means Denver can still go out there and add that quarterback of the future with the fifth pick should it decide to. If not, Keenum is more than capable of shouldering the load under center for the next two seasons. Well done, Mr. Elway.
Philadelphia Eagles: Trading for Michael Bennett
The rich just get richer. Pretty much the entire football world was up in arms when Seattle traded this three-time Pro Bowler to the defending champs for pennies on the dollar. The deal includes a swap of late-round picks with Philadelphia sending merely a depth receiver in Marcus Johnson to the Seahawks. It also doesn’t hurt that Bennett is set to count just $6.7 million against the cap in 2018.
On the field, Bennett will now team up with Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Derek Barnett and Timmy Jernigan to form a defensive line that rivals Minnesota for the best in the game. That’s about as scary as it gets, especially considering just how dominant this group was during a championship 2017 season.
Dallas Cowboys: Placing franchise tag on Demarcus Lawrence
Without any real room under the cap, Dallas’ offseason is going to be all about how it performs in the draft. Given the money that has been thrown around in free agency, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Even then, this is a squad that needs to upgrade at all levels of the defense. Retaining an elite pass rusher in Lawrence by using the franchise tag made all the sense in the world to continue this defensive rebuild. It also doesn’t hurt that Lawrence was more than happy to sign it.
The Cowboys can now focus on adding key talent to the defense in next month’s draft. With Lawrence coming back and Taco Charlton looking to come into his own as a sophomore next season, pass rush won’t be a need there. Instead, Jerry Jones and Co. can look for cornerback and safety help.
Washington Redskins: Re-signing Zach Brown
Much like Dallas, the Redskins haven’t done a whole lot to improve their team in free agency. Sure replacing Kirk Cousins with Alex Smith solves the quarterback situation over the short term. In and of itself, that move can be questioned in a big way. But we digress.
Re-signing the team’s leading tackler from last season was a necessity for Washington. As underrated as they come, Brown acts the part of a quarterback on defense. He’s also one year removed from a Pro Bowl performance and has recorded 120-plus tackles in each of the past two seasons. A three-year, $24 million deal for someone of this ilk is well below how we saw the market play out in free agency. It’s a darn good move.
New York Giants: Signing Nate Solder
New York paid heavily to make sure that it had a top-end left tackle to protect Eli Manning moving forward. In fact, it might have overpaid in a big way. Solder received a four-year, $62 million deal with nearly $35 million guaranteed. His average salary of $15.5 million is almost $2 million more than the second-highest paid offensive tackle in the NFL. That’s fine. The Giants threw a ton of cold hard cash in Solder’s direction.
Even then, it’s a move this team needed to make after watching the likes of Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart struggle so horribly at left tackle last season. If the Giants are indeed content with Manning under center over the short term, getting a veteran pass protector had to be the first order of business this offseason. In that, the Giants did a bang-up job adding the best available free agent option.
New England Patriots: Signing Adrian Clayborn
In an offseason that has been filled with key departures for the Pats, they did well to add depth and talent to the defensive line. First off, we love the trade for former Cleveland Browns first round pick, defensive tackle Danny Shelton. But the addition of Clayborn to a defensive line that struggled from a pass-rush standpoint is absolutely huge here. New England’s top sack-getter last season was Trey Flowers with 6.5. Clayborn put up a career-high 9.5 in a part-time role with the Falcons.
Signing Clayborn is the perfect Patriots move. He fits their hybrid defensive front to a T. He can be both a three-down defensive end or excel in a pass-rush specific role. Bringing him into the mix on a two-year, $12 million deal is among the most underrated moves of the NFL offseason.
Buffalo Bills: Trading Cordy Glenn
This had been in the works for some time. Rumors suggested prior to last season that Buffalo was looking to move its former first-round pick. Since then, Glenn missed all but six games to injury last season. In fact, he has missed 16 of a possible 32 games since the start of the 2016 campaign. Relying on him to be healthy enough to protect what should be a young quarterback under center next season made no real sense.
Instead, the Bills were able to turn Glenn and the 21st pick in next month’s draft into the 12th selection in a trade with the Cincinnati Bengals. When taking into account various NFL Draft trade value charts, that’s the equivalent of a mid second-round pick. The move also helps Buffalo in its efforts to trade up into the top five for a quarterback of its choosing. The team now boasts the 12th and 22nd picks in the first round, two second-round picks and two third-round picks. Solid move by GM Brandon Beane and Co. here.
Miami Dolphins: Signing Josh Sitton
We can talk about how bad the Dolphins’ offseason has been. And it’s been really bad. Moving on from Jarvis Landry, Ndamukong Suh and Mike Pouncey as a way to save money is a representation of the previous front office’s failures. Sadly, GM Chris Grier had to cut the fat somewhere. Those three fell victim to it.
In continuing with the theme of this article, the signing of Sitton to a two-year, $15 million contract was a boon for Miami. He immediately becomes the team’s best offensive lineman and has proven himself to be one of the game’s top guards over nearly the past decade. It’s a move Miami needed to make after letting Pouncey go.
New York Jets: Signing Isaiah Crowell
Following the retirement of Matt Forte, New York cast a wide net to find a replacement. That included getting into a bidding war with San Francisco for Jerick McKinnon. Though, the price for Minnesota’s talented young running back proved to be too high. Instead, the Jets added another youngster on a much cheaper deal. It includes $12 million over three years with just $6 million in guaranteed cash. Talk about value.
Crowell, 25, is coming off a two-year stretch with Cleveland that saw him put up 2,306 total yards. He’s more than proven himself to be a three-down back in the NFL. More than that, Crowell’s success with the Browns came without anything mirroring a decent quarterback under center. This was one heck of a signing for an up-and-coming Jets squad.
Los Angeles Rams: Trading for Marcus Peters
We’re still not too sure how the Rams nabbed Peters from Kansas City in exchange for a swap of 2018 mid-round picks and a second-round in the 2019 NFL Draft. It makes no sense. Throughout the course of his three-year career, Peters has proven himself to be the single greatest ball hawk in the game, having recorded 19 interceptions and five forced fumbles during that span.
Sure he might give up the big play on occasion, but the 25-year-old Peters is a game-changer in every sense of the word. Acquiring him on the cheap to pair up with fellow new cornerback Aqib Talib should lead to the best corner tandem in the game. It was meant to spoke fear in Jimmy Garoppolo and Russell Wilson in the NFC West. And that’s exactly what the trade for Peters did.
Seattle Seahawks: Signing Ed Dickson
It’s been an absolutely dreadful offseason for the Seahawks. Such is the nature of the beast when you kick contract issues down the road and fail to value those who have put you in Super Bowl contention over the pas five-plus years. Though, the one underrated move Seattle made this offseason shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Fresh off a 2017 campaign that saw him put up 30 receptions for 437 yards, Dickson is an adequate replacement for th recently departed Jimmy Graham from a pass-catching standpoint. He’s also a much better blocker, which is going to be needed if Seattle hopes to improve on a disastrous rushing attack it put together last season.
Arizona Cardinals: Signing Justin Pugh
With the immobile and injury-prone Sam Bradford slated to be under center next season, it goes without saying that Arizona needed to upgrade an offensive line that yielded the third-most sacks (52) in the league this past year. The team did just that by signing Pugh to a five-year, $45 million contract.
Pugh, 27, figures to take over at right guard next to Jared Veldheer for the Cardinals. A full-time move inside is probably best for a player that struggled out on the edge with the Giants. And it will certainly have a trickle-down effect for one of the most talent-stricken offensive lines in the NFL.
San Francisco 49ers: Signing Richard Sherman
The minute Seattle released this future Hall of Fame cornerback, San Francisco was ready to pounce. And for good reason. Sherman has acted as a thorn in its side for the past seven seasons. Prior to suffering a season-ending Achilles injury in 2017, he was still among the top cover corners in the NFL. The 49ers needed to upgrade their pass defense. Signing him would also burn the Seahawks big time.
So when the 49ers agreed to a three-year contract with Sherman the day after he was released by Seattle, it wasn’t all too shocking. The surprise is that he received just $3 million guaranteed on the deal. Sherman is banking on himself, and we all know how that’s turned out for opponents in the past. This was legit one of the best offseason signings.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Signing Morgan Burnett
These Steelers are rarely players in the free agent market. Instead, the modus operandi under GM Kevin Colbert has been to build through the draft. The idea this offseason was to target one or two specific needs and find the player that best fits that need.
After releasing a safety in Mike Mitchell who has struggled in coverage, it became apparent that Pittsburgh needed to find a safety to play alongside the impressive Sean Davis. That’s where Burnett and his seven years of starting experience in Green Bay came into play. He’s a true free safety and center fielder, two things that the Steelers have been missing for some time. Burnett also came in the form of a three-year, $14.5 million deal, which is a bargain for someone of his ilk.
Baltimore Ravens: Signing Michael Crabtree
Call it luck or something completely different. Either way, the Ravens are in a much better situation with Crabtree in the fold than they were after signing Ryan Grant earlier in the offseason. Grant failed his physical almost immediately as Crabtree was released by the Raiders. And within 24 hours, the former Oakland receiver had signed with Baltimore.
During his three years with the Raiders, Crabtree averaged 77 receptions for 848 yards and eight touchdowns. That would actually represent the highest catch total for a Ravens receiver since Steve Smith back in 2014. Joe Flacco has struggled. We know this. He’s not an elite quarterback. But the Ravens have failed at every turn to get him a reliable target since Smith retired. Adding someone of Crabtree’s ilk and consistency was absolutely huge for this team.
Cincinnati Bengals: Trading for Cordy Glenn
The left tackle position was a major issue for Cincinnati after it let veteran Andrew Whitworth depart in free agency last offseason. The team selected Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher in the first two rounds of the 2015 NFL Draft. Neither has proven to be a capable blindside protector for Andy Dalton.
That’s where Glenn comes into play. Cincinnati picked up this Pro Bowl caliber guard in a trade from Buffalo, moving down just nine spots in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft in the process. Sure Glenn has missed half of the Bills’ games over the past two seasons. But when he’s on the field, the former first-round pick is among the best pass-protecting tackles in the game. Trading down less than 10 spots to give Glenn a chance to handle the left tackle position was a small price for Cincinnati to pay. And if he’s able to stay healthy, it will be a major boon for the Bengals.
Cleveland Browns: Trading for Jarvis Landry
We can question Landry’s ceiling all we want. Here’s a guy that averaged less than nine yards per reception last season. He’s a high-volume pass catcher, having been targeted an average of 153 times over the past three seasons. That’s fine. He’s still now one of the most-talented players on the Browns’ roster. Here’s a guy that posted an NFL record 400 receptions in his first four seasons in the league. That can’t go unnoticed.
The better thing for Cleveland is that it picked Landry up for a fourth-round pick in 2018 and a seventh rounder in the 2019 NFL Draft. Talk about getting a starting receiver on the cheap. He’ll now team up with Josh Gordon to form a capable wide receiver tandem, presumably for Tyrod Taylor, next season. Not too bad at all.
Minnesota Vikings: Signing Sheldon Richardson
We could go with the obvious choice in Kirk Cousins here. But that would be too easy. From a pure team-wide standpoint adding Richardson on a small one-year deal could have some major wide-ranging ramifications. As one of the better pass-rushing interior linemen in the game, Richardson will now team up with the likes of Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter and Linval Joseph to form the most dominant defensive line in the NFL.
The addition of Richardson will free up Griffen and Hunter more out on the edge. And with the ball-hawking defensive backs Minnesota boasts, this will make the league’s best defensive even that much better. It was a tremendous targeted signing for GM Rick Spielman and Co.
Green Bay Packers: Signing Jimmy Graham
The Martellus Bennett experiment was an unmitigated disaster for Green Bay last season. That didn’t stop the team from doubling down on tight end in free agency this offseason. In Graham, the Packers give Aaron Rodgers one of the best pass-catching tight ends in modern NFL history. They do so while moving on from a receiver in Jordy Nelson who has regressed a great deal in recent seasons.
Despite some struggles with scheme fit in Seattle, Graham still found a way to average nearly 700 yards and six touchdowns in his three seasons with the Seahawks. He gives Rodgers a legit red-zone threat, which will come in handy now that Nelson is in Oakland. It was a perfect signing for these Packers.
Detroit Lions: Signing LeGarrette Blount
Blount is nothing more than a stopgap for a Lions team that still needs to invest at running back in next month’s draft. But he’s one heck of a stopgap. Here’s a guy that’s averaged nearly 900 yards and nine touchdowns over the past three seasons. To put this into perspective, the Lions have not had a 100-yard rusher since 2013 and has not seen a running back put up as much as 600 yards in a season since 2014.
Adding Blount on a one-year, $2 million contract might also enable Detroit to look beyond the first round for a running back in a draft that’s absolutely stacked at this position. It also gives the Lions that short-yardage back they’ve been missing for about the past decade. That’s music to Matthew Stafford’s ears.
Chicago Bears: Signing Allen Robinson
We have no idea how Robinson is going to return from the ACL injury that cost him all but one game last season. But given that he had no history of injury, there’s precedent for success here. In any event, being able to nab the top free agent receiver for Mitch Trubisky was an absolute coup for a Bears team that has been as active as any this offseason.
Robinson put up 153 receptions for 2,283 yards and 20 touchdowns in his final two full seasons with the Jaguars. At 6-foot-3, he’s going to be a big target for Trubisky moving forward. He’s still only 24 years old, so this was as much about the future as it was about the 2018 season. Oh, and adding him on a deal that’s seemingly guaranteed for just two seasons was a major boon.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Signing Andrew Norwell
Any time you can add an All-Pro player at a position of perceived weakness, you do everything in your power to make it happen. That’s why this one scribe was shocked that Carolina didn’t place the franchise tag on Norwell. A mauler at guard, Norwell will do absolutely wonders for Leonard Fournette and the Jaguars ground game. He’s also that type of guard who can take on interior pass rushers with the best of them. For a quarterback in Blake Bortles that struggles with pressure up the middle, that’s absolutely huge.
Handing out what amounts to left tackle money ($66.5 million over five years with $30 million guaranteed) is steep. But we’re pretty sure fans in San Francisco, Seattle and Green Bay would have been more than happy if their teams did just that. Norwell was a top free agent. He goes to one of the best teams in the NFL. Need we say more?
Tennessee Titans: Signing Dion Lewis
Lewis is the perfect running back to act in tandem with Derrick Henry following the release of DeMarco Murray. Prior to last season Lewis had not put up more than 64 rush attempts in a season. He responded by compiling his first fully healthy season, totaling 1,110 total yards on 212 touches. That made Lewis a valuable commodity on the free agent market.
Unlike with San Francisco signing Jerick McKinnon, Lewis isn’t being asked to shoulder the load in Tennessee. He’ll complement what Henry does well, giving the Titans even more talent on an offense that should be much better than what we saw last season.
Houston Texans: Signing Tyrann Mathieu
If Mathieu had hit the free agent market at its onset, he likely would have been a top-five player available. That much really isn’t in question. Instead, Arizona decided to release the former All-Pro only after it needed the cash to sign Sam Bradford. Yeah, that’s a questionable decision in and of itself.
Though, it also represents a major boon for a Texans team that has been missing that play-making ball hawk in the defensive secondary for some time now. In his five seasons with the Cardinals, Mathieu averaged three forced turnovers per season. He’s going to do wonders behind a defensive front that already includes J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus. Adding someone of his character to team up with Watt off the field also can’t go unnoticed here. Just a tremendous overall signing for the Texans.
Indianapolis Colts: Trade with the Bills
In a draft that’s going to be quarterback-heavy at the top, Indy had no real reason to stand pat at No. 3 overall. Instead, the team needed to take advantage of its situation by pulling the wool over the heads of those quarterback-needy squads selecting behind it. This is exactly what happened when the Colts sent that pick to the New York Jets for the sixth overall selection and three second-round picks (more on that here).
This gives up-and-coming young GM Chris Ballard a while heck of a lot of draft capital to work with. The Colts now boast four of the first 49 picks in next month’s draft. They also have the capability of trading down even further to replenish a roster that’s missing a young core, as Ballard himself noted following the trade.
New Orleans Saints: Signing Patrick Robinson
It was somewhat of a shock to see the Eagles fail to re-sign Robinson after he put up a career-best performance in 2017. The veteran recorded 45 tackles, 18 passes defended and four interceptions in a tremendous overall campaign for the defending champs.
He now returns to the team that selected him in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. He will also now team up with reigning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Marshon Lattimore to form a duo on a defense that improved leaps and bounds last season.
Carolina Panthers: Trading for Torrey Smith
At this point in his career, Smith is what he is — an inconstant deep threat. The 29-year-old receiver caught 36 passes for 430 yards and two touchdowns with Philadelphia last season. His numbers were down from the standpoint that he didn’t beat defenders over the top. That could be an issue moving forward, especially as Smith hits the wrong side of 30 and slows down.
In no way does this mean that trading a struggling young corner in Daryl Worley for Smith wasn’t a smart move for the Panthers. With Cam Newton’s deep ball ability as well as the ability of Christian McCaffrey and Greg Olsen to dominate underneath in the passing game, Smith could be that deep threat the Panthers have missed since Ted Ginn’s departure. It really is the perfect fit for both the player and the team.
Atlanta Falcons: Signing Brandon Fusco
Unlike previous offseasons, Atlanta has remained relatively quiet in free agency. The team just didn’t have a whole lot of money to spend on top-end free agents. Losing the likes of Adrian Clayborn and Dontari Poe magnified this. With that said, the Falcons did find a way to address one major area by signing Fusco.
Wes Schweitzer was among the worst starting guards in the NFL as a rookie last season, grading out 56th among player at his position, per Pro Football Focus metrics. While Fusco proved to be nothing more than an average guard for the 49ers last season, he’s an upgrade in terms of both consistency and experience. It’s a solid move to help the ground game of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman get back on track.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Signing Vinny Curry
Most of the pressure Tampa Bay put on opposing quarterbacks last season came from the interior of its offensive line with Clinton McDonald and Gerald McCoy combining for 11 of the team’s league-low 22 sacks. Needless to say, adding an edge presence was huge for this struggling defense. Once Curry was released by the defending champion Eagles, it made too much sense for the Bucs not to target him.
The three-year, $27 million deal Tampa handed Curry might have been a bit rich for a player that recorded just 5.5 sacks over the past two seasons. But the sack numbers are rather pointless here. The 29-year-old defensive end racked up 45 pressures and pressured the quarterback on nearly 11 percent of his snaps last season. That’s some elite-level stuff right there.