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Wade Payne/Associated Press
We’re about to turn to the next chapter of the 2021 offseason. On Thursday, the NFL draft will kick off in Cleveland.
However, free agency is hardly over. There’s always a wave of signings after the draft as teams try to plug the holes they couldn’t fill. And while we’ve already seen some massive trades involving veteran quarterbacks and first-round picks, that’s nothing compared to the flurry of deals we’ll see come draft day.
Before we go forward, let’s look back at each team’s biggest move of the offseason to date. For some, biggest means exactly that. Big money. Splash signings. Others have made reasonable yet impactful signings that successful free-agency periods are truly built on. Meanwhile, a few squads played Let’s Make a Deal and swung big trades.
And for a few teams with little in the way of resources, the offseason’s biggest bang was more like a fizzle.
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J Patrick Schneider/Associated Press
The Arizona Cardinals were aggressive in free agency this year, and their biggest move really was the best.
It has been a while since J.J. Watt posted a 20-sack season or won the Defensive Player of the Year award. But as recently as 2018, Watt racked up 16 sacks, and pairing him with Chandler Jones could give the Redbirds one of the league’s most fearsome pass-rushing duos.
At 32, Watt appears to be on the downside of his career. But according to Darren Urban of the team’s website, Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said on the Big Red Rage that the team is hopeful Watt can experience a second chapter similar to Reggie White:
“J and I were laughing about Reggie White. Reggie White signed with Green Bay when he was, what 31, 32 years old and he had 60-plus sacks. This is not different. It’s happened before. Very similar players, dominant inside rushers, guys who take care of themselves and freaks of nature. So hopefully he can have the same success Reggie had.“
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Isaac Brekken/Associated Press
Thanks in large part to limited salary-cap resources, the Atlanta Falcons were quiet on the free-agency front. Most of the signings were low-risk, short-term deals. The team also suffered significant losses, including the departures of safeties Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee.
Atlanta’s best acquisition of the offseason addressed those departures without breaking the bank.
Erik Harris isn’t a Pro Bowl-level defensive back. But the 31-year-old undrafted free agent emerged as a capable option for the Raiders over the past couple of years, amassing 60-plus tackles in each campaign across 26 starts.
Kevin Knight of the Falcoholic speculated recently that Harris could be a replacement for Neal at strong safety.
“What Harris lacks in ideal athleticism he makes up for with smarts and instincts,” he said. “And those limitations would be far less pronounced closer to the line of scrimmage. I’d expect him to wind up the opening day starter at strong safety.”
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Larry Maurer/Associated Press
Free agency hasn’t been especially kind to the Baltimore Ravens in 2021. The Ravens watched their top two edge-rushers (Yannick Ngakoue and Matthew Judon), whiffed on adding one of this year’s top available wide receivers and lost one of their top two tackles when Orlando Brown Jr. was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs.
But it wasn’t all bad news. That trade got Baltimore an extra first-round pick, and in veteran guard Kevin Zeitler, the Ravens were able to add an excellent run blocker and quality pass protector who has missed just one game over the last six seasons.
Zeitler is an excellent fit in Baltimore’s run-heavy offense, and he said at his introductory press conference that he welcomes the chance to play for a winning organization.
“When it came down to it, the teams I was choosing from, winning and being on a great established team was definitely, no matter where I went, that was going to be part of it,” Zeitler said, per Robert Sobus of Ravens Wire. “After talking to coach [John Harbaugh] and everything, I thought it fit what I do well with my run blocking and everything. I just thought for me and my family right now, Baltimore was the place to be.”
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Butch Dill/Associated Press
For the most part, the Buffalo Bills’ offseason was all about keeping the band together. The team made a concerted effort to maintain the status quo on defense, re-upping linebacker Matt Milano and cornerback Levi Wallace.
However, there were some departures. Veteran wide receiver John Brown signed with the Las Vegas Raiders, leaving the Bills with a hole opposite Stefon Diggs, but Buffalo filled that hole quite nicely.
Emmanuel Sanders is no longer the player who amassed three straight 1,000-yard seasons and made it to two Pro Bowls as a member of the Denver Broncos. But the 34-year-old remains a capable veteran pass-catcher who recorded a respectable 61 catches for 726 yards and five touchdowns with the New Orleans Saints in 2020.
Sanders told Maddy Glab of the Bills’ official website that he looks forward to chasing a second Super Bowl ring.
“They were in the AFC championship last year,” Sanders said. “This is already a great organization. They already have everything Buffalo needs. I just want to come in and just bring positive energy for one and bring my work ethic.”
Given the offseason the Bills had, they have to be considered the top threat to Kansas City’s status as the two-time defending AFC champion.
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Charles Krupa/Associated Press
It was no secret that the Carolina Panthers were looking to upgrade the quarterback position during the 2021 offseason. Given how Sam Darnold’s first three professional seasons went in New York, it’s debatable whether he will be that upgrade.
But given the relatively paltry amount the Panthers gave up to trade for Darnold (a sixth-round pick in 2021 and second- and fourth-round picks in 2022), they made a low-risk move with the potential for a high reward if a change of scenery helps the 2018 third overall pick turn his career around.
Former NFL quarterback Mark Sanchez, who knows a thing or two about struggling on the Jets, told Joseph Person of The Athletic that it’s far too early to give up on Darnold.
“He hasn’t had a legitimate chance to make anything happen with real weapons,” he said. “It makes it very difficult when you’re playing with guys like that. There’s a lot on the quarterback, and he’s still learning a lot.”
If Sanchez is correct and Darnold thrives in Charlotte, this trade will be looked at as one of the best moves of the 2021 offseason.
If he’s wrong, the Panthers aren’t out all that much.
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Frank Franklin II/Associated Press
Calling the signing of veteran quarterback Andy Dalton the best move of the 2021 offseason for the Chicago Bears demonstrates just how badly said offseason has gone in the Windy City.
It’s not that the Bears didn’t need to get better at the game’s most important position. They made the playoffs in 2020, but that was in spite of the play of Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles, not because of it.
The problem is that if Dalton is an upgrade at all (and that’s open for discussion), he’s a minimal one.
Yes, he led the Cincinnati Bengals to the playoffs in each of his first five seasons and has made the Pro Bowl three times, but the 33-year-old’s last winning campaign came all the way back in 2015. He hasn’t posted a passer rating north of 90 since 2016, and he has done so just twice in a decade as an NFL quarterback.
Over the last four seasons, Dalton is 18-31. He’s thrown double-digit interceptions in three of the past four campaigns. And he’s on his third team in as many years.
Even if you believe that the Bears got better under center, the team is still a mess at quarterback.
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David Berding/Associated Press
For some teams, it’s not difficult to single out the best acquisition of the offseason.
The Cincinnati Bengals are one of those teams.
They headed into the offseason with one need that loomed large above all others: Improve an offensive line that Pro Football Focus graded as the league’s third-worst in 2020.
That line still needs work, but the Bengals were able to bring in one veteran upgrade on a reasonable contract.
Technically speaking, they signed Riley Reiff to a two-year, $7.5 million pact. But the second year is voidable. The Bengals simply used it to spread out the cap hit in a year in which teams have less cash than usual.
Over nine years in Detroit and Minnesota, Reiff has been a solid and versatile lineman capable of manning both tackle spots. In 1,003 snaps with the Vikings in 2020, he allowed just a single sack and committed one penalty.
By weight of comparison, Cincinnati’s 2020 starter at right tackle (Bobby Hart) surrendered four sacks in 872 snaps.
Joe Burrow approves.
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Zach Bolinger/Associated Press
It’s not easy to identify the best move of the 2021 offseason for the Cleveland Browns. There isn’t a team in the AFC that did a better job of addressing its biggest need. The additions of players like edge-rusher Jadeveon Clowney, safety John Johnson III and cornerback Troy Hill should offer a major boost to a defense that struggled in 2020.
But there’s another move that stands out both as a sizable upgrade and a huge bargain.
Inside linebacker Anthony Walker has been overshadowed by batterymate Darius Leonard on the Indianapolis Colts over the past few years. He’s also not an elite talent in coverage. But he is an excellent run defender who has averaged 107 tackles over the last three seasons and will become Cleveland’s best off-ball linebacker the moment he takes the field.
Walker told reporters in his introductory press conference that he’s eager to help the Browns take the next step.
“They play good complementary football on offense and defense,” he said, “so I’m just happy to be a part of this organization and do my small part to be successful.”
On a one-year, $3.0 million deal, Walker was one of free agency’s biggest steals.
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Brandon Wade/Associated Press
After signing quarterback Dak Prescott to a four-year, $160 million extension, the Dallas Cowboys didn’t have much to spend in free agency. While they had to be frugal, they were still able improve a defense that was miserable for much of 2020.
There’s been an exodus from Atlanta to Dallas in 2021. Former Falcons head coach Dan Quinn is the Cowboys’ new defensive coordinator. Dallas signed safety Keanu Neal as well. But the best addition may have been the lowest-profile one.
Damontae Kazee is hardly a household name. But over his four seasons with the Falcons, he played all over the back end, whether it was at box safety, deep safety or in the slot. His 2020 campaign was an injury-marred disappointment, but in his last full season in 2019, he registered 74 total tackles and posted a passer rating against of 66.3. The season before that, he tied for the league lead with seven interceptions.
Getting a versatile, ball-hawking defensive back for just over $1 million on a one-year deal is larceny.
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Gary McCullough/Associated Press
Sometimes one team’s loss is another’s gain. That’s the case this year for the Denver Broncos, who signed cornerback Kyle Fuller.
A 29-year-old two-time Pro Bowler, Fuller wasn’t even supposed to be available in free agency after a 2020 campaign in which he piled up 65 tackles and allowed just 55.4 percent of the passes thrown in his direction to be completed.
But in arguably the most puzzling personnel decision of the entire offseason, the Bears decided that the best way to free up cap space was to release their best corner. The Broncos then swopped in, signing Fuller to a one-year, $9.5 million contract.
As Cody Benjamin wrote for CBS Sports, the acquisition of Fuller was a big boost for the Broncos defense and one of free agency’s most impactful signings.
“Fuller isn’t lockdown material these days,” he wrote. “But as a one-year bet, he makes all the sense in the world considering his background with [Vic] Fangio in Windy City. If the Broncos are bent on getting to the playoffs because of their ‘D,’ Fuller should help.”
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Matt Ludtke/Associated Press
There one acquisition in the Motor City that towers above all the rest, and the massive trade will define the tenure of Brad Holmes as general manager.
In a risky move, the Lions shipped one of the best quarterbacks they have ever had (Matthew Stafford) for a signal-caller who backslid in 2020 and has a contract that carries a cap hit of more than $30 million in three of the next four seasons (Jared Goff).
There’s no realistic way for Detroit to extricate itself from the deal until at least 2023. Never mind that Rams head coach Sean McVay insinuated that Goff struggles to read opposing defenses.
But Goff is also a 26-year-old quarterback with two Pro Bowl nods on his resume and has already led his team deeper into the playoffs than Stafford ever has.
There’s also the matter of the first-round picks that Detroit will receive in 2022 and 2023, selections that can be used to fix the team’s myriad of other needs or move up in Round 1 to select Goff’s replacement.
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David Richard/Associated Press
It is impossible to assess the Green Bay Packers’ biggest acquisition of the 2021 offseason because they haven’t acquired any new players of note yet.
On some level, that shouldn’t be surprising. For many years, the Packers have been more likely than not to take a measured approach to free agency. And they haven’t been inactive. Running back Aaron Jones, tight end Robert Tonyan and wide receiver Allen Lazard were among the in-house free agents they retained.
As Peter Bukowski tweeted, longtime Packers writer Tyler Dunne heard that Green Bay wasn’t averse to adding an impact free agent this year provided that veteran quarterback Aaron Rodgers was amenable to restructuring his contract to free up cap space.
As of yet, that hasn’t happened. And with just $2.6 million in cap space (less than will be required to sign the rookie class), it’s going to be tricky for the team to make any player additions until it frees up some cheddar.
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Zach Bolinger/Associated Press
It’s been a dizzying few years for cornerback Desmond King II.
Back in 2018, King was a key contributor for a 12-win Los Angeles Chargers team. The former Iowa standout earned first-team All-Pro honors as a defensive back and second-team honors as a punt returner after tallying 62 tackles and three interceptions while averaging 13.8 yards per punt return with a score.
Fast forward to November 2020, and King had fallen out of favor in L.A. and was flipped to the Tennessee Titans for a 2021 sixth-round pick. The 26-year-old played nine games for the Titans, but he was on the move again this offseason, this time inking a one-year, $3 million pact with the Houston Texans.
The Texans were active in free agency this year, but King was the best value. For a minimal investment, the team landed a player who has demonstrated the potential to be one of the best slot cornerbacks in the game.
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Roger Steinman/Associated Press
When Philip Rivers announced his retirement, he left the Indianapolis Colts in a bind under center. The Colts filled that hole by gambling that Carson Wentz’s disastrous 2020 campaign in Philadelphia was an outlier and that the 2016 second overall pick could recapture the MVP-caliber form he showed back in 2017.
Colts head coach Frank Reich said on the With The Next Pick podcast that he has no doubt Wentz can rebound in 2021 (h/t Jeff Kerr of CBS Sports):
“It’s just a natural fit in so many ways. I know Carson and I know Indianapolis. This just feels right to me … I just felt like he (Wentz) got it. The way that he looks at the game and plays the game. It’s the way I think it should be played at that position. There are some guys that just love the process. They love practicing, working out, talking football, watching football, everything about it. Colts Nation is going to see it. You can just feel the energy he has for the game, his teammates, competing. My conviction is very deep.”
Reich has familiarity with Wentz. He was the Eagles’ offensive coordinator in 2016 and 2017. And if Wentz can come close to playing at the level he did under Reich in Philly, this trade will be more than worth it.
But it’s not without risk. If Wentz plays 75 percent of the Colts’ snaps (or 70 percent if Indy makes the postseason), the conditional second-rounder sent to the Eagles becomes a first.
And to be brutally honest, Wentz was abjectly awful in 2020.
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Duane Burleson/Associated Press
There is next to no chance that the Jacksonville Jaguars won’t pick Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence first overall in the 2021 draft. The rest of the offseason has been all about building a team around him, including improving his weapons.
Over his nine seasons with the Bengals and Lions, Marvin Jones Jr. hasn’t posted gaudy numbers. The 31-year-old’s only 1,000-yard season came in 2017, and he has never been named to a Pro Bowl.
But as evidenced by his career-high 76 catches in 2020, Jones has plenty left in the tank. He’s caught nine touchdowns in three of the last four years. And after signing a two-year, $12.5 million contract with the Jaguars, Jones in ready to serve as a mentor of sorts to the team’s young wideouts, according to Demetrius Harvey of Big Cat Country.
“I’ve come here to be great, and you expect that from everybody else on the team,” Jones added. “It’s a new kind of regime obviously, it’s a new energy, and you can come here, and you can feel that from all the coaches, so I’m just excited to be here.”
The wide receiver corps and Lawrence should both benefit from his presence.
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Nick Wass/Associated Press
Despite a relative lack of salary-cap resources, the Chiefs had already made one big move on the offensive line, inking guard Joe Thuney to a five-year, $80 million pact.
That signing came at a price, though. Prior to that, the Chiefs released both right tackle Mitchell Schwartz and left tackle Eric Fisher to free up cap space.
The team inked Mike Remmers as a potential replacement on the right side, but Patrick Mahomes’ blind side was still a major question mark.
That question was answered Friday. Emphatically.
Per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Chiefs acquired Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Brown Jr. (and two draft picks) for a package of picks that includes the next-to-last selection in Round 1 of the 2021 draft.
As big as the Thuney signing was (and it was big), bringing in Brown was an even bigger coup. The 6’8″, 345-pound mauler is just entering the prime of his career (turns 25 on May 2), and he has been named a Pro Bowler in each of the past two seasons.
In Brown, Thuney and center Austin Blythe, the Chiefs have retooled the left side of a line that let the team down badly in Super Bowl LV.
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Terrance Williams/Associated Press
In 2020, only three teams accrued fewer sacks than the Las Vegas Raiders, who had 21.
In 2021, the Raiders spent big money in an effort to remedy that.
It has been a whirlwind for edge-rusher Yannick Ngakoue. After amassing eight sacks for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2019, Ngakoue feuded with Jags ownership before getting traded to Minnesota last August. He didn’t even last two months in the Twin Cities. He was dealt to the Baltimore Ravens at the end of October.
Now the 26-year-old is in Vegas after signing a two-year, $26 million deal. And he’s ready to wreak havoc for the Silver and Black.
“I’m going with a defensive coordinator [Gus Bradley] that’s used to my style of play,” Ngakoue told SiriusXM (h/t Raiders.com). “You’d have to be a fool not to want to play for the Raiders, just their tradition, the history behind the Hall of Famers they have. I aspire to be a Hall of Famer someday.”
For all the moving around, Ngakoue has been effective wherever he’s played. The five-year veteran has recorded at least eight sacks in all of his seasons.
That number would have led the Raiders last year.
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Michael Conroy/Associated Press
According to Pro Football Focus, no team had a worse offensive line in 2020 than the Los Angeles Chargers. Improving the protection in front of quarterback Justin Herbert was an absolute must.
It wasn’t cheap, but the Bolts were able to do that.
Over his seven seasons with the Packers, Corey Linsley has become one of the best pivots in the league. After allowing just a single sack and not committing any penalties in 734 snaps last season, the 29-year-old was named a first-team All-Pro for the first time.
That honor (and Linsley’s play) earned him $12.5 million per season and $26 million in guarantees from the Chargers, and head coach Brandon Staley expects the big man to make an even bigger difference in 2021, per Kevin Patra of NFL.com:
“You know who [Linsley] has been partnering up with in his career [Packers QB Aaron Rodgers], one of the special guys in the league. Now, Justin and Corey can team up to be one of those special tandems in the league. I think the big thing with Corey is that we feel like he is a difference-maker. There are a lot of centers that are good players, but who is a difference-maker? We feel like Corey is a difference-maker in more ways than one — certainly with his physical skills, but then all of the intangible stuff, too.“
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Duane Burleson/Associated Press
While appearing on The Dan Patrick Show (h/t Cameron DaSilva of Rams Wire), Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Robert Woods raised some eyebrows when he said he wasn’t sure that Matthew Stafford is an upgrade over Jared Goff:
“We gotta see. I would say you gotta see. It’s different, a whole new environment for Stafford to leave Detroit, he’s been in one place his whole career. I would love for it to be an upgrade because of the things we accomplished with Jared Goff and I think if we do have an upgrade at quarterback, I think that’s huge for our team.”
Oh, he’d better be an upgrade, all right.
After all, the Rams didn’t just trade Goff. Their first-rounders in both 2022 and 2023 now belong to the Lions. This trade is going to be judged by one criteria and one alone: whether L.A. wins the Super Bowl with Stafford under center.
But in fairness to the 33-year-old, he has never had the type of talent around him like he does now. And he made a Pro Bowl and had eight seasons with more than 4,000 passing yards on some awful Lions teams.
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Matt Patterson/Associated Press
Give credit where it’s due. Once the Miami Dolphins front office picks a plan of action, it attacks it.
In 2019, the team decided a rebuild was necessary and blew the roster up, trading veteran assets for draft capital. Last year, the team decided to accelerate the rebuild and was aggressive in free agency.
In 2021, Miami GM Chris Grier decided on a little of both.
First, the team flipped the third overall pick in 2021 obtained in the Laremy Tunsil trade to the San Francisco 49ers for a package that included three first-rounders. That same day, Miami packaged the 12th overall pick, a fourth-rounder and a 2022 first-rounder in a deal with the Eagles to move up to No. 6 overall.
With that sixth pick, the Dolphins are still in the running for one of this year’s top skill-position prospects like LSU wideout Ja’Marr Chase. Miami still has San Francisco’s first-rounder next year and a pair of firsts in 2023.
Grier still has to hit on those picks, but adding the draft ammo he did was a big win.
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Kyusung Gong/Associated Press
Last December, Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer didn’t pull any punches when describing his defense after the team allowed 52 points in a loss to the New Orleans Saints.
“Yeah, this is a bad defense,” Zimmer said, per ESPN’s Courtney Cronin. “Worst one I’ve ever had.”
The addition of veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson isn’t going to fix all that ails the Vikings defensively, but the chance to play for Zimmer was one of things that Peterson found attractive about Minnesota.
“His defense has a very strong identity,” Peterson said, per Jack White of Vikings Wire. “And you know with me going into my 11th year, that’s something I want to be a part of. A guy that has a strong resume, a guy that taught Hall of Famers. [He] understands how to get the best out of great players.”
Peterson isn’t the perennial Pro Bowler he once was. But it’s no stretch to say he’s the best cornerback in a Vikings secondary that is long on youth but short on proven options.
His experience is going to come in handy in 2021.
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Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press
There is no shortage of potential options for the New England Patriots in 2021. Whether it was via trade or by opening up the checkbook, there isn’t a team in the league that added more outside talent.
The four-year, $24 million contract given to defensive back Jalen Mills wasn’t the biggest move in terms of cabbage spent. But in terms of value and potential impact, the Pats didn’t make a better one.
In five seasons with the Eagles, Mills played all over the defensive backfield, whether it was on the boundary, in the slot or (as he did in 2020) at safety. He was effective in all those spots, allowing just a 57.6 percent completion rate on passes thrown in his direction and a passer rating against of 82.0. He also had a career-high 74 tackles.
Head coach Bill Belichick has long valued versatility and toughness from his defenders. Given how well Mills excels in both of those categories, the 27-year-old should fit in just fine.
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Steve Luciano/Associated Press
Given the franchise’s hellish salary-cap situation at the outset of free agency, the New Orleans Saints were hardly in position to be big players. However, they at least helped offset one of their larger personnel issues—without breaking the bank.
Fifth-year edge-rusher Tanoh Kpassagnon isn’t the pass-rushing threat the departed Trey Hendrickson is. Hendrickson had almost twice as many sacks in 2020 alone (13.5) as h had in four seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs (seven).
But the massive 6’7″, 289-pound Villanova product is a high-motor edge-setter who shines against the run, and his four sacks in 2019 show at least some potential to get after the passer.
Kpassagnon’s best fit in the Big Easy is as an early-down complement to Marcus Davenport opposite Cameron Jordan.
A part-time defensive end may not seem like a huge deal. But when a team has next to no money to spend, any hole that can be even partially filled makes the best of a less than ideal situation.
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Tony Ding/Associated Press
New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman wasn’t even a little bit shy about spending cash this offseason. Defensive end Leonard Williams received $21 million per season to stay with Big Blue. The Giants handed cornerback Adoree’ Jackson $13 million per season to upgrade the back end of the defense.
But the biggest move the team made was to sign a No. 1 wide receiver for young quarterback Daniel Jones.
Kenny Golladay’s 2020 season was a forgettable one. The 27-year-old missed 11 games and had just 20 receptions. But in each of the two preceding campaigns, Golladay amassed at least 65 catches and 1,000 yards. Two years ago, he reeled in 11 touchdown passes.
Nate Burleson of NFL.com predicted that even bigger and better things could be in store:
“The Giants have a talented group of offensive skill players in Saquon Barkley, Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton and Evan Engram. Inserting a bona fide No. 1 wide receiver into this offense will propel not only third-year quarterback Daniel Jones (in what feels like a make-or-break year) but this offense as a whole—something Big Blue desperately needs after ranking 31st in scoring and total offense in 2020. Golladay’s physical game and ability to make contested catches against any defender allows him to produce no matter the circumstances around him, and joining a hungry Giants team looking to make the leap should benefit him in return.“
At $18 million per season, they better hope so.
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Aaron Doster/Associated Press
There wasn’t a team that entered free agency with needs in more areas than the New York Jets. To their credit, the Jets weren’t shy about addressing those needs, signing offensive and defensive players to large contracts.
The best of those deals was with edge-rusher Carl Lawson.
Lawson’s stats weren’t great last year. The Bengals tallied the fewest sacks in the league, and Lawson had just 5.5. That’s not much production from someone who is now making $15 million per season.
But look a little deeper, and things appear better. Lawson had 32 quarterback hits and 44 pressures—numbers that show he was regularly disruptive. And as DJ Bien-Aime II of the New York Daily News reported, Lawson said he intends to turn more of those pressures into sacks as the weak-side end in Robert Saleh’s 4-3 under front.
“I’m trying to improve every single aspect of my game: run, pass,” Lawson said. “I’m always constantly trying to improve. However long I’m blessed to play this game, that’s what I’m trying to do each and every day.”
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Al Goldis/Associated Press
It’s been a dismal offseason for the Philadelphia Eagles. Because of the record cap hit that was part of the Carson Wentz trade, the Eagles faced one of the worst salary situations in the NFL. The $4.8 million in space Philadelphia possesses isn’t enough to sign the team’s draft class.
There has been a bright spot or two, however. The trade with the Dolphins that brought the Eagles a first-rounder in 2022 (at the cost of moving down from No. 6 to No. 12) was wise for a team obviously punting in 2021.
But the biggest coup was the addition of safety Anthony Harris on a one-year, $4 million contract.
The 29-year-old backslid in coverage last year relative to his six-pick 2019 campaign, posting a passer rating against of 118.1 and surrendering four touchdowns.
But in the two seasons prior to that, Harris was one of the best coverage safeties in the game, allowing passer ratings of 58.1 and 44.2 while giving up just one touchdown. And even amid last year’s struggles in coverage, Harris notched the first 100-tackle season of his career.
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Danny Karnik/Associated Press
Free agency has not been kind to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Faced with a dire salary-cap situation, Pittsburgh was left to watch players sign lucrative deals elsewhere.
It did retain wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, but one of the Steelers’ best pass-rushers (Bud Dupree) and two of their top three cornerbacks (Steven Nelson and Mike Hilton) are gone. So is running back James Conner, and while it remains a possibility that left tackle Alejandro Villanueva will return, it’s not especially likely.
There’s also the matter of center Maurkice Pouncey’s retirement, though that is a hole the Steelers may have at least somewhat filled despite their lack of resources.
Veteran B.J. Finney isn’t a great player by any stretch—the 29-year-old has made just 13 starts in five seasons. But he played for the Steel City from 2016 to 2019, and he told the team’s website (via Steelers Depot) that he’s glad to be back.
As outside signings go, it’s the best of a less-than-impressive lot.
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Tony Avelar/Associated Press
The tenures of head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch in San Francisco are about to be defined.
When the San Francisco 49ers sent their first-round picks in 2021, 2022 and 2023 and a third-rounder in 2022 to the Dolphins for the right to move up nine spots to No. 3 next week, two things became apparent. The first is that the Niners will draft a quarterback in that spot.
The second is that Shanahan and Lynch will forever be linked to that pick.
If Mac Jones of Alabama turns out to be a perfect fit for Shanahan’s offense, they will look like geniuses. Ditto if Shanahan can develop small-program standout Trey Lance of North Dakota State. Or if Justin Fields of Ohio State has the same level of success in the Bay Area that he had in Columbus.
But make no mistake, given the draft capital the franchise gave up to get the pick, if whichever quarterback the 49ers settle on doesn’t pan out, no one is going to care that this brain trust already got San Francisco to one Super Bowl.
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Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press
As John Boyle of the team’s website reported, new Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman Kerry Hyder Jr. is ready to do whatever he can to help prop up the pass rush.
“They want to try to use me the best way they can, whether that’s inside or outside,” Hyder said. “I’ve always been a defensive lineman who kind of gets in where he fits in, so if they need me inside, I’m scrapping it up inside; if I’ve got to play outside, I’ll play outside. I’m definitely coming in as a defensive end and that’s where I plan spending the majority of my time.”
The 29-year-old is coming off the best season of his career—pressed into action by the injuries that ravaged the 49ers, Hyder played 721 snaps, parlaying that playing time into career highs in tackles (49) and sacks (8.5).
Hyder isn’t an elite talent, but he’s not being paid like one—the 29-year-old got $6.8 million over two seasons.
He is a tough, versatile complementary lineman who should be a valued addition to the front seven.
And those are the sort of signings that “win” free agency for a team.
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Aaron Doster/Associated Press
Singling out running back Giovani Bernard as the biggest acquisition for the defending Super Bowl champions wasn’t difficult.
To date, the 29-year-old is the only outside player the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have signed.
It has been a while since Bernard has been a major part of an offense—after topping 1,000 total yards in each of his first three seasons, Bernard hasn’t reached 850 since. His 124 carries in 2020 were his most since 2015, and Bernard hasn’t averaged four yards per carry since 2017.
Of course, running the ball isn’t exactly Bernard’s specialty—he has long been more impactful in the passing game. Bernard caught 47 balls for 355 yards and three scores a year ago, marking the fifth time in eight seasons he surpassed 40 receptions.
Bernard isn’t a threat to take significant work from Leonard Fournette or Ronald Jones II, especially on early downs. But he will add depth to the backfield and should get a fair amount of playing time in passing situations.
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Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press
Per ESPN’s Turron Davenport, edge-rusher Bud Dupree said at his introductory news conference that he intends to bring the same ferocity to the Tennessee Titans that made him a star with the Steelers.
“I’m going to go out there and play with my hair on fire and get after the quarterback as much as I can. Try to create pressure,” Dupree said. “Just chasing the ball. Running to the ball no matter where it is. If there is a pile, get in the pile and get dirty. Never turn down contact.”
Signing Dupree to a five-year, $62.5 million contract wasn’t without risk—the 28-year-old has just one season with more than eight sacks and has suffered a pair of serious injuries, including a torn right ACL 11 games into the 2020 season.
But had Dupree not torn up his knee, he likely would have logged a second straight season with double-digit sacks. He also peeled off a career-high 68 tackles two years ago and appears like an excellent fit for Mike Vrabel’s defense.
In any event, if Tennessee is going to make the playoffs for a third straight season, it had to bolster a pass rush that managed just 19 sacks in 2020—third-fewest in the league.
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David Becker/Associated Press
The Washington Football Team entered the offseason in good shape relative to the holes in its roster. The loss of cornerback Ronald Darby was offset (and then some) by the signing of William Jackson III. The addition of free-agent receiver Curtis Samuel gave Washington a solid complement to Terry McLaurin at wide receiver.
The Washington defense is as loaded up front as any in the league. The offense has a decent line and array of skill-position talent.
But the quarterback position was a huge question mark. It still is in the long term.
But in the short term, Ryan Fitzpatrick is about to embark on just about the only storyline the ultimate journeyman hasn’t: leading a playoff contender.
Fitzpatrick has the arm to take advantage of Washington’s passing-game talent. He’s been quietly good in recent years—the 38-year-old has thrown 57 touchdowns to 36 interceptions over the past four years.
Fitzpatrick’s one-year, $10 million contract is low-risk.
And the ninth team he will play for is the best team he will have started for.