OFF SEASON GRADES
Mike Sando of ESPN.com is knowledgeable himself and his plenty of inside the business contacts. Together they give all 32 teams offseason grades. The whole things is here, heavily edited below. The Colts get the only A, the two New York teams take the two Ds.
Execs predicted for months before the draft that the Cardinals would select quarterback Kyler Murray first overall. It was a move few could have envisioned one year ago, but an almost necessary one after the team named Kliff Kingsbury its head coach.
“It seemed like they were all over the board with convoluted moves, but there is a connection with the quarterback and the offensive guru and the system,” a former general manager said. “It has a chance now, whereas before the draft, I would have said, ‘No way.'”
The decision to make another coaching change without overhauling the front office means the Cardinals’ first-year head coach inherits a seventh-year GM (Steve Keim) who has a winning record (52-43-1) but could be on less stable ground after three straight non-winning seasons and a 2018 DUI conviction.
“Wouldn’t it be interesting if they had a new GM with Kingsbury and Murray?” an exec asked. “Maybe they do different things rather than signing all these old guys who have been cut.”
Brooks Reed, 32, and Robert Alford, 30, were older cut players signed by Arizona before free agency opened. Other veteran additions included Terrell Suggs (36), Charles Clay (30) and J.R. Sweezy (30).
The 2018 Falcons finished seventh on offense, 31st on defense and 16th on special teams in ESPN’s expected points-based efficiency rankings. They responded by firing all three coordinators before loading up on offensive linemen in both free agency and the draft.
“They did a lot for their offensive line, but I feel like they are exposed at running back and corner, and their pass rush is a concern,” an evaluator said. “Maybe they think [fourth-round pick] John Cominsky can be a Tyrone Crawford type or an Adrian Clayborn from their Super Bowl team.”
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Dirk Koetter’s return as offensive coordinator went over well.
“I think [Devonta] Freeman will have a big year with Dirk,” an exec said. “He fits the mold of Maurice Jones-Drew and even Doug Martin, who had big years playing for Dirk. The question is, can he stay healthy? Losing Tevin Coleman to a relatively modest deal had to hurt.”
The Ravens subtracted defensive leaders Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley and Eric Weddle. They signed former Seattle safety Earl Thomas to a deal that was costly on two levels; beyond the $32 million that was guaranteed at signing, the deal canceled out the 2020 third-round compensatory pick Baltimore could have received for losing Mosley in free agency.
“The big issue is what they lost defensively, and can a player-friendly defensive staff adjust to having lost who they lost?” an exec said. “Guys they really leaned on, culture setters, are gone.”
Execs agreed that promoting Greg Roman to offensive coordinator and trading Joe Flacco made sense after the team committed to Lamar Jackson as quarterback. Not everyone loved the overall outlook, however. Will the defense be good enough to enable the Ravens’ offensive style?
“It is possible Jackson will make a Year 2 jump under Roman,” an exec said, “but I think high expectations are misplaced. The defense is going to regress. They are not going to have any flexibility or balance and they will be stuck. It was good for John Harbaugh to get that contract extension.”
Execs see the Bills building in the Panthers’ image under Carolina transplants Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott. Both franchises have big, athletic quarterbacks lacking great accuracy, which is why some question the way Buffalo is assembling its receiving corps.
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“I think their maneuvers are similar to how New England operates — not huge money, with some higher picks who got shown the door elsewhere,” an evaluator said. “I think their GM and head coach are in sync and when you have that, you have a chance.”
The Panthers have a second-year owner with a thirst for analytics, a third-year GM hired twice by the previous owner, a quarterback coming off shoulder surgery and a head coach implementing defensive scheme changes entering his ninth season.
“I don’t think they rebound,” an evaluator said. “I’m not sold on the offensive line and we don’t know if Cam can throw the ball yet. They are switching defenses. Aye yi yi.”
This offseason was largely about last offseason for the Bears. Their 2019 first-round pick helped them land Khalil Mack. They spent their 2019 second-rounder last year as well, helping them trade up for receiver Anthony Miller (Kansas City eventually used the Bears’ 2019 second-rounder for receiver Mecole Hardman).
“The early part of the Mack trade was exactly what they wanted, but now they are dealing with the back end of the trade,” an exec said.
The Bengals hired a first-time head coach (Zac Taylor), a first-time offensive coordinator (Brian Callahan) and a first-time defensive coordinator (Lou Anarumo). Those coaches’ only experience calling plays in the NFL traces to a 12-game stretch for Taylor and Anarumo with the 2015 Dolphins. There will presumably be a learning curve.
“My biggest question for them as an organization and why they might have considered hiring guys with more experience is just when it comes to identifying talent as a staff,” an exec said. “All these guys have been positional coaches and not even special-teams coaches, who at least have to figure out ways to use or evaluate players.”
The Bengals, like the Packers, hired a head coach with ties to Rams coach Sean McVay. Unlike the Packers, the Bengals funneled resources into an offense that already had decent talent. First-round tackle Jonah Williams and second-round tight end Drew Sample give Taylor greater ability to implement a balanced offense around quarterback Andy Dalton.
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“They are so conservative there that I think they are trying to just keep the ship running and hope this guy [Taylor] can give them a little something on offense,” an exec said. “A lot is going to depend on what he puts around him, how good his defensive coaches are.”
Execs who weren’t sure whether the 2018 Los Angeles Rams could easily assimilate Ndamukong Suh, Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters thought the Browns were taking much greater risks. Cleveland has less stable ownership, a less established head coach, no track record of recent success and a more explosive combination of personalities.
“Handing this roster to Freddie Kitchens, who has never been a coordinator, let alone a head coach, would scare me to death,” an exec said. “The talent might be good enough so that it doesn’t matter, but it is also combustible. You are already seeing signs with Odell.”
Odell Beckham Jr., Kareem Hunt and Sheldon Richardson are talented newcomers who have nonetheless been suspended by the NFL at various points in their careers.
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A head coach said he thought quarterback Baker Mayfield had the makeup and personality to roll with whatever waves Beckham and anyone else might make. An exec thought the personalities of Mayfield and Beckham were bigger than the franchise, and he thought there was zero chance Beckham actually wanted to be in Cleveland over bigger, more glamorous markets such as New York and Los Angeles.
The 2019 first-round pick Dallas spent to acquire Amari Cooper last season produced immediate positive returns.
Quarterback Dak Prescott completed 72 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns, three interceptions, a 104.6 passer rating and 63.1 Total QBR with Cooper on the field last season. Those numbers were much better than when Cooper was off the field.
Can Prescott and the offense make another jump with Kellen Moore replacing Scott Linehan as offensive coordinator?
“They believe Kellen Moore will be more creative and I agree,” an evaluator said. “I’m intrigued to see his fingerprints on that offense. He grew up in it, his dad was a really good high school coach and Kellen is very sharp, so it will be interesting to see.”
Dallas extended DeMarcus Lawrence’s contract, acquired Robert Quinn to offset losing Randy Gregory, and used its first two draft picks for linemen on both sides of the ball.
“Randall Cobb was an interesting signing to me,” an evaluator said. “He could be Cole Beasley, except hurt. But if he’s healthy, he could be an upgrade. I think their process was, for less than the price of Cole Beasley, they got Tavon Austin and Randall Cobb. Two can be better than one, but Beasley had great chemistry with Dak and that could be missed.”
The Broncos finished last season with Case Keenum and Kevin Hogan atop their QB depth chart. Joe Flacco and second-round pick Drew Lock fill those roles now. And while stats say Flacco and Keenum are about the same, it’s tough finding anyone who would rather have Keenum.
Denver replaced head coach Vance Joseph with Vic Fangio. Failing to reach agreement with offensive coordinator candidate Gary Kubiak was one of the few staff-related disappointments, but landing Mike Munchak to coach the offensive line looked like a home run, especially with the Broncos investing big free-agent dollars in tackle Ja’Wuan James before using a second-round choice for Dalton Risner.
“There are very few great players who are really good coaches, but Munchak is one of them,” an exec said. “He does such a good job of not asking his guys to do things they cannot do. Ja’Wuan James will look better. It will end up being a good signing for them.”
Execs disagreed over whether 31-year-old corner Kareem Jackson was a good signing at $11 million per year.
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“We’ll see on Lock,” an exec said. “He played for four years and has a big arm, but he had a losing record and completed 57 percent of his passes, which are all things that were true of Jay Cutler, too.”
The Lions spent big in free agency for players with ties to coach Matt Patricia and GM Bob Quinn. That included signing Trey Flowers, Justin Coleman and Danny Amendola. Detroit also signed former Steelers tight end Jesse James at $5.6 million per year, then used the eighth pick in the draft for another tight end, T.J. Hockenson.
“They are better, definitely,” an exec said. “Flowers is a really good player. Coleman is a really good nickel. They signed so many guys that I can’t even remember them all. They are going all-in.”
How early is too early to draft a tight end? Some loved Hockenson and would have taken him at No. 8. Others dissented.
“They took a 4.7 [in the 40-yard dash] tight end with the eighth overall pick when they could have taken a quarterback,” one of the dissenters said. “I personally think it’s time to move on from [Matthew] Stafford. It is the same thing year after year. He’s not a bad guy, but he’s had so many coordinators and quarterback coaches, it’s a smorgasbord. Can you really cook something or do you keep making grilled cheese?”
Green Bay Packers
The Packers should be better on defense, but did they hire the right head coach for the right reasons? Matt LaFleur’s ties to Sean McVay seemed to be his greatest selling point. That, and he wasn’t Mike McCarthy.
“They obviously think LaFleur can fix the offense on his own because they didn’t really sign or draft anybody on offense,” an exec said. “It seems odd that you can hire LaFleur and then everybody [on offense] you have in the building would be a fit for what he does. Maybe that is the case.”
Execs suggested that holdover defensive coordinator Mike Pettine could have shaped the offseason priority list more than the first-time head coach with 16 games’ experience calling offensive plays.
“One of the concerns is that defensive coordinator is a strong-willed guy and does he wield too much influence?” an exec said. “Free agency was all defense. The first four picks of the draft were defense. And then I have some questions about the staff after they did not get the special-teams coordinator [Darren Rizzi, who landed with New Orleans].”
Rebuilding the offensive line was the Texans’ overriding responsibility this offseason. They did that by signing veteran tackle Matt Kalil before using first- and second-round picks for tackles Tytus Howard (23rd overall) and Max Scharping (56th).
“I think they improved,” an evaluator said. “Guys they added in the draft come from smaller schools and are not sexy names, but they are good football players. Tytus Howard is raw and it might take him a while, but once he gets it, he has a chance to be as good or better than than any tackles drafted by anyone else.”
Loading up on line prospects in the draft was the cheaper alternative to paying top dollar for veteran free agents.
“When you sign those veteran guys, you could be drafting their replacements in two years anyway,” an exec said.
The Colts entered the offseason with more than $100 million in salary-cap space. They resisted the most expensive players in the market, instead landing pass-rusher Justin Houston and receiver Devin Funchess to short-term deals (two years for Houston, one for Funchess).
Indy then traded back 20 spots in the draft, moving down from the 26th overall spot. The Colts emerged with three second-round choices for the second year in a row, apparently figuring the difference between the 26th and 46th choices wasn’t large enough to justify standing pat.
“There is a clarity, a vision and a discipline to what they are doing,” an exec said. “They know what they want to be and they are disciplined in executing the plan. One thing about Indy is, the owner [Jim Irsay] knows football, has a strong desire to win and will support that financially, particularly now that everyone is on the same page.”
Blake Bortles, Malik Jackson, Carlos Hyde and Tashaun Gipson are out. Telvin Smith says he’s taking a year off. Leonard Fournette says he’s eager for a fresh start. Nick Foles is the new quarterback, John DeFilippo is the new offensive coordinator and Josh Allen is the new pass-rusher selected in the first round.
“Allen, to me, cannot miss,” an evaluator said. “Will he be elite? He will definitely be good. This is not a Luke Joeckel miss or a Dante Fowler Jr. miss.”
Foles is not Bortles, which means the Jaguars finally have a fresh outlook at quarterback for the first time in five years.
“It all depends on how Foles does,” an exec said, “but to get the pass-rusher where they got him and then get the tackle [Jawaan Taylor] in the second round, both those guys were early, early talent that they were able to get for one reason or another, and that is really big for them.”
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs still have Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes, which is what matters most, but this will be a vastly different team in meaningful ways — some good, some bad.
“You can see what they are trying to do with the defense, but Kansas City is a hard one to figure overall because they’ve had some curveballs,” an exec said.
Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, outside linebackers Justin Houston and Dee Ford, safety Eric Berry and (for now) receiver Tyreek Hill are out. Taking their places: defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, defensive end Frank Clark (among others), safety Tyrann Mathieu and rookie receiver Mecole Hardman.
“They did really well on Dee Ford. They are changing schemes and this is a guy who had one good year in a contract year, and they were not biting. They parlayed it into getting Frank Clark, who is just a much better player.”
The Chiefs essentially traded Ford and the 29th pick for Clark (their own 2020 second goes to Seattle, and San Francisco’s 2020 second goes to Kansas City). If you’re going to trade a first-round pick, you’re better getting a player at a premium position in return. Clark is one such player.
“They have lost a ‘blue’ running back [Hunt] and a ‘blue’ wide receiver [Hill] and could drop because of that,” an evaluator said. “You just can’t replace those guys. But they do have the X factor [Mahomes] that can make that all less relevant.”
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers were the only NFL team to rank among the top five on both offense and defense in ESPN’s efficiency metrics last season. They didn’t need to do much this offseason, but showing a little more urgency — or perhaps just an inclination to spend a little more — would not have met resistance.
“Sometimes activity isn’t the best way to improve,” an exec countered. “Sometimes just letting it jell will work. What do they normally do? This, right?”
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams made their big moves last year, reached the Super Bowl and made no big splashes in the pool this spring.
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Clay Matthews, Eric Weddle and Blake Bortles were the bigger-name additions.
“Getting Matthews and Weddle for $9-10 million total, that is sort of cheating the system,” an exec said.
Keeping Dante Fowler Jr. on a one-year, $12 million deal was another plus, but is the net talent change positive without Lamarcus Joyner, Ndamukong Suh and Rodger Saffold?
“They’ve got a lot of good players — there were some scouts out there calling them ‘Ala-Ram-a’,” an exec said. “But sometimes you realize that signing Ndamukong Suh really did nothing for you. It didn’t get you over the hump. You gotta sign the right guys. It’s probably good they didn’t pull the trigger on an Odell Beckham trade or something like that.”
It’s hard to call this a great offseason so early in the game, especially without knowing how Brian Flores projects as a head coach. The new structure could be promising, however.
“You have a first-time head coach and a GM who has never had this much on his plate,” an exec said. “They realize this and have brought in mentors for them to model after.”
Flores has a strong mentor in assistant head coach/quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell. GM Chris Grier has a mentor as well in the newly hired Reggie McKenzie. Grier also has help from a newly created assistant GM position manned by Marvin Allen.
The long-term rebuild that owner Stephen Ross greenlit could be best for the Dolphins. Will he be patient?
“That is the inherent risk with any rebuild,” an exec said. “Philly was able to rebuild and compete because they were able to trade up and get [Carson] Wentz.”
Re-signing receiver Adam Thielen and linebacker Anthony Barr proved again that Kirk Cousins’ contract would not prevent the Vikings from keeping together their core.
Losing Sheldon Richardson from the defense demonstrated there are limits, however. At least Minnesota stands to receive a 2020 third-round comp pick after Richardson commanded $12.3 million a year from Cleveland.
“I’d rather have Richardson than Barr, especially if they are going to keep dropping Barr into coverage like they did against the Rams,” an evaluator said, “but Barr just has way more emotional ties for them.”
Gary Kubiak’s hiring as assistant head coach/offensive adviser gives Minnesota not just another cook in the offensive kitchen, but a world-renowned chef serving in the No. 2 role behind the rising but less established Kevin Stefanski. Coach Mike Zimmer’s history with offensive coaches and the increased pressure on Zimmer to win make this a compelling situation.
Three views that are not necessarily conflicting:
Veteran coach: “Kubiak is collaborative and will be a net benefit for Stefanski.”
Head coach: “‘Kubes’ will be great for [Kirk] Cousins. ‘Kubes’ is the master of simplifying the complex and he knows what he wants done and it’s clear.”
Personnel director: “They will have a sounder identity offensively, a firmer identity with a guy like Kubiak playing to the mindset and style of the head coach.”
New England Patriots
The Patriots’ offseason featured a prostitution solicitation arrest for owner Robert Kraft, multiple staff departures, would-be defensive coordinator Greg Schiano joining and quickly leaving the team, postseason hero Rob Gronkowski retiring and top free agent Trey Flowers leaving for riches in Detroit.
Oh, and Las Vegas has the Patriots as 6-1 favorites to win the next Super Bowl, the best odds for any team.
“So, they are going to go 10-6, at least,” an exec said. “Is that a B offseason? In their own weird way, it’s a good offseason for them.”
The exec let out a loud laugh, knowing that picking apart the Patriots’ moves seems futile in the face of robust annual returns.
“[Bill] Belichick is the guy who climbs Everest without oxygen just to see if he can do it,” another exec said. “It’ll work out for them.”
New Orleans Saints
The Saints’ grade takes a hit from the 2018 trade that saw them surrender their 2019 first-round pick to Green Bay as part of trading up to select defensive end Marcus Davenport. That was one of those we-are-one-player-away moves that are hard to execute successfully. The Saints might argue that one blown call in the playoffs was all that stopped them, but they got 4.5 sacks and zero starts from the player they had to have.
“I think New Orleans freely gives out future picks and it ends up hurting them,” an exec said. “It’s like they fall in love with one player at one position, and that is where you get in trouble.”
The Davenport trade gave the Saints less flexibility in the 2019 draft, where they traded up again — this time in the second round, to select center Erik McCoy, a player evaluators like very much. The Saints picked McCoy after committing $4 million in guaranteed money to veteran center Nick Easton following Max Unger’s surprise retirement.
“To me it seems like an overreaction to Unger retiring, but that is what teams do,” an exec said, noting that Kansas City acted similarly following Tyreek Hill’s suspension.
New York Giants
A dispirited college roommate once told me without sarcasm that he was “shooting for a high F” on an upcoming exam. That bit of unintentional comedy came to mind after I told an exec that a D-minus grade seemed right for the Giants’ offseason.
“Yeah,” the exec replied without any intended malice, “so why wouldn’t the Giants be an F?”
Because they finally identified and drafted a potential franchise quarterback in Daniel Jones, I replied.
“If you think he is the guy, great,” a different exec said. “It is just, what are you trying to make your team?”
The Giants traded away one of the game’s great playmakers (Beckham) and one of their better pass-rushers (Vernon). They used the first-round choice acquired for Beckham on a 350-pound nose tackle, seven months after trading away a 350-pound nose tackle (Damon Harrison). They acquired a 23-year-old safety drafted in the first round (Jabrill Peppers) to replace a 25-year-old safety drafted in the first round (Landon Collins).
For some, it felt as if the Giants were akin to a basketball team sinking 2-point shots while its opponents were hitting 3s.
“You could have had Odell and Harrison from last year’s team,” an exec said. “Instead, you have Dexter Lawrence and a fifth-rounder from Detroit. That makes no sense to me.”
It obviously makes sense to the Giants, but execs agreed that New York’s GM, Dave Gettleman, has not communicated the plan effectively.
New York Jets
This Jets offseason remains in flux until the team names its next GM, but there’s lots to digest.
The plan all along could not have been to fire GM Mike Maccagnan two weeks after the draft — well after Maccagnan seemed to drive key moves in free agency, including the signing of Le’Veon Bell, which no one saw as a move the new head coach, Adam Gase, would have made or even supported.
“If you had told people in November that the Jets were going to wind up with Adam Gase as the head coach and [interim] GM, they’d be like, ‘What the f— are you talking about?'” an exec said.
Lots of people are saying a variation of that right now.
“You don’t have to agree with the decision people make — people are right or wrong all the time — but you should be able to understand what teams are trying to accomplish,” an exec said. “With the Jets, you have done some things that could make you better, but you don’t get the sense they walked in knowing how to fix their organization. They threw darts.”
Where there is no coherent plan, there is speculation.
Gase and franchise quarterback Sam Darnold share representation through agent Jimmy Sexton, as do some of the potential GM candidates, and Bob LaMonte reps Maccagnan. Not everyone agreed those dynamics were critical here.
“I don’t think Maccagnan got fired because of agents or even because of Gase,” an exec said. “Look, Gase could have prevented Maccagnan from being fired, but I don’t think Gase is the reason he was fired. What solidified it was that they’ve had two head coaches not love the fit.”
“I would rather have Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper than Josh Jacobs and Johnathan Abram,” an exec said. “That is why it is dangerous to trade good players for draft picks. Those draft picks are super valuable until they are spent and then they are players that not everybody wants.”
Instead of potentially having Cooper and Mack on expensive contracts for years to come, the Raiders have:
• 2019 first-round picks Jacobs and Abram
• Chicago’s 2019 sixth-round pick (since traded to the Jets with Osemele for a fifth-round pick that was traded to Jacksonville)
• Chicago’s 2020 first- and third-round picks (minus the Raiders’ 2020 second and a conditional fifth)
“They pass on Khalil Mack, but then they overpay the tackle [Trent Brown] and they overpay the safety [Lamarcus Joyner],” another exec said. “You could have had a dynamic pass-rusher [Mack] for $23 million a year, but now you are paying $27 million a year for a safety and a tackle who could not start in San Francisco two years ago.”
Some wondered how long the honeymoon would last between the Raiders and Antonio Brown, who forced his way out of Pittsburgh.
“They are paying a bunch of offensive guys and it is not a terrible strategy,” an exec said. “They are saying they will draft on defense and have guys for four years. Most of these big-time players getting cut are defensive guys, which I think played into their thinking on Mack. There is some evidence to support it and that is how they are building their team.”
OK, but where did all this Raiders cash come from?
“One thing they did was structure contracts to have big bucks in Year 2, for when they are in Vegas,” an exec said. “That is good for players, too, because there is no state income tax in Nevada.”
The Eagles seemed to operate with purpose when they kept together their offensive line, maneuvered to add a left tackle of the future in first-round pick Andre Dillard, replaced Michael Bennett with Malik Jackson, added an explosive element with DeSean Jackson and beefed up their backfield with runners Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders.
“Losing Bennett and [Chris] Long both in one offseason is going to hurt,” an evaluator said. “They drafted [Shareef] Miller and brought back Vinny Curry to address it, but I just feel like on the edge, there is going to be some liability. Their defense played so well the year they won the Super Bowl and I just don’t see them having that again.”
There wasn’t much Philly could have done to keep No. 2 quarterback Nick Foles. His departure brings even greater awareness to how Carson Wentz-dependent the Eagles are becoming. That dependence will grow after Philly pays him.
The Steelers’ offseason turned into a circus, with Antonio Brown forcing a trade after gaining a league-high 9,145 receiving yards over the previous six seasons. Le’Veon Bell’s departure was quiet by comparison, but the effect was similar. Is there upside?
“I’ll say this, I think Pittsburgh is going to come out of it looking good,” an exec said. “I like the way they have churned that culture and the guys they picked up and drafted kind of start them back in the old Pittsburgh way.”
This offseason amounted to doubling down on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, including with a contract extension.
Here are five of the most interesting comments I collected from execs during a tumultuous Steelers offseason:
• On the Steelers, like the Giants, parting with high-profile players: “Look, the game has changed. Players have changed. These older franchises that have always had a staid way of doing things, it does not fly anymore. Players do not care. They are their own brand, and if you can’t accept that, then you probably are going to struggle. For the Bears, it took [Matt] Nagy to come in and shake it up.”
• On why the Steelers seem less stable: “I think Mr. [Dan] Rooney’s passing [in 2017] really hurt that team. He had so much backbone to stand up and do things the way they are supposed to be done.”
• On going all-in with Roethlisberger: “[GM] Kevin [Colbert] was put in a tough spot, because if you have to pick between those three guys [Roethlisberger, Bell or Brown], I would back Ben too.”
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“This would probably piss off Steelers fans who are upset with how things are going, but this is still a really talented team, and when Ben Roethlisberger is executing, they can win the Super Bowl,” an evaluator said.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers’ six largest free-agent commitments of guaranteed money this offseason went to Dee Ford, Kwon Alexander, Robbie Gould, Jimmie Ward, Tevin Coleman and Jason Verrett.
Gould has sought a trade. Coleman has drawn rave reviews as one of the NFL’s better offseason value additions, especially given his ties to 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan. A personnel director called that a brilliant signing. An evaluator wondered how Atlanta could let him get away at that price.
The 49ers’ other four highest-compensated veteran additions carried significant injury histories, as did first-round choice Nick Bosa. Alexander is rehabbing from a torn ACL. Ward recently suffered a broken clavicle. Bosa, highly regarded despite his own injury history, has a hamstring issue.
“The Chiefs give up Dee Ford for a two and then go give Frank Clark $100 million and a first-round pick to Seattle,” an evaluator said. “They could have paid Ford and saved a first-round pick, so you go, ‘Uh oh.’ It is just interesting. Dee Ford is not a surefire elite pass-rusher.”
Seattle re-signed quarterback Russell Wilson, turned Frank Clark into draft capital and then made a series of late signings — Ziggy Ansah among them — that did not count in the equation for 2020 compensatory draft choices. The maneuvers are projected to leave Seattle with more than one choice in the second, third, fourth, sixth and seventh rounds next year.
Draft picks are great, of course, but without Clark, do the Seahawks have enough good players on their roster?
“The good thing for them is, they have a formula that won,” an exec said. “It is clear that Pete [Carroll] needs a culture where guys are not paid, where they are younger and hungrier and can adapt. Guys like [Richard] Sherman, [Earl] Thomas and Michael Bennett figured out they could talk their way out.”
The Clark trade helped Seattle increase its 2019 draft-pick total from four to 11.
“I really struggle with Seattle,” another exec said. “They traded their best pass-rusher for picks they used for a safety with some character concerns, a receiver who runs three routes [DK Metcalf] and a really good special-teams linebacker [Ben Burr-Kirven] who might wind up being the best player of those three.”
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
There are nits to pick with this Buccaneers offseason, but the big picture is what matters most here.
Tampa Bay wanted a dynamic head coach who could lead the entire team while possibly redeeming Jameis Winston. The Buccaneers got that in Bruce Arians, who has driven success as a head coach with two organizations.
“I think Arians does make a difference,” an exec said. “You watch what he does and it seems like everybody is a better player. It wouldn’t shock me if he takes them to 8-8, 9-7, and maybe for a year the quarterback tries to prove everyone wrong.”
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Beyond Arians, I expected more resistance to the Buccaneers using the fifth overall pick for an inside linebacker [Devin White] over an outside pass-rusher [Josh Allen]. Multiple evaluators liked White enough to justify the decision, although Jason Pierre-Paul’s injury created an even bigger pass-rush void.
The way Tampa Bay handled the signings of outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett and receiver Breshad Perriman did raise objections. Committing a combined $5 million in guaranteed money to them suggests both will be on the Week 1 roster, and if that is the case, those signings stand to cost Tampa Bay third- and fourth-round compensatory choices in 2020.
The Titans used top-10 picks for Marcus Mariota (2015), Jack Conklin (2016) and Corey Davis (2017) over the past four years. Moves they made this offseason served as a reminder that the stakes are high when picking that early.
Acquiring Ryan Tannehill from the Dolphins highlighted the uncertainty surrounding Mariota entering his fifth-year option season. Forgoing a fifth-year option on Conklin hurt because the team traded up at great expense to select him. Loading up on receivers in free agency (Adam Humphries) and the draft (A.J. Brown) was not necessarily a negative reflection on Davis, but the fact that receiver was still seen as a big need wasn’t an endorsement either.
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Not lost on execs: Tennessee will be breaking in a first-time offensive coordinator for the second season in a row, with Arthur Smith replacing Matt LaFleur. Tight ends coach Todd Downing, Oakland’s offensive coordinator in 2017, is the only coach on staff with offensive playcalling experience in the NFL.
Washington had to have a quarterback and drafted one in the top half of the first round without trading up. Will Dwayne Haskins be good, bad or somewhere in between? Take a guess and you might be correct. As far as process goes, however, that critical part of this Redskins offseason seemed to go well.
“The answer is, if the guy is a good quarterback, they are geniuses and if not, they are idiots,” an exec said. “Whether they moved up from 15 and got him at eight or moved down and got him at 28 doesn’t matter. Is he the right guy?”
A team that finished last season with Josh Johnson and Mark Sanchez as its active quarterbacks will happily move forward with Haskins and trade acquisition Case Keenum, while figuring out whether Alex Smith will ever play again.
“They were a 5-4 team and in the hunt when they lost their quarterback last year,” an exec said. “They went 2-5 after that because they had no one. Alex Smith is an average quarterback. Maybe they bounce back this year just by becoming average at that spot again.”