Analysis

Every NFL Team’s Most Savvy Move This Offseason

Most Savvy Move

The NFL offseason is not about making the headline moves, it is about teams judging the open market, the draft, and their own coaching staff and front office to make savvy decisions to put them in a position to contend in the coming year.

Those decisions could involve making a high-profile trade or big-money signing, or they could be the personnel moves made on the margins that look much more important come the stretch run. In some cases, the hiring of a head coach or coordinator could prove the pivotal move of an offseason.

With training camps getting underway this month, all 32 teams will soon have a better idea of whether they made the right personnel calls ahead of the new season.

Now that the dust has settled on one of the most dramatic offseasons in NFL history, here we make an assessment on the most savvy move made by every NFL team.

AFC East

Buffalo Bills – Drafting Matt Araiza

Coming in hot with punter talk, but this is different. This is the Punt God we’re talking about.

The Bills ended Araiza’s surprising slide in the sixth round of the draft. Araiza seemingly fell due to teams viewing him as more of a project – he only played one full season in college as a punter – and concerns over his directional punting and hang-time.

But only five teams had fewer punts than the Bills in 2021. Buffalo punted 53 times last season, and the rarity with which they kick the ball away may have influenced their decision to look past Araiza’s deficiencies.

The Bills are one of the most aggressive teams in the NFL. If they aren’t planning on punting unless they’re pinned deep in their own territory, it makes sense to rely on a punter who can flip the field with 80-yarders and worry about hang-time later.

Miami Dolphins – Hiring Mike McDaniel

It’s way too early to tell if McDaniel will be a success as a head coach, but philosophically there could hardly be a better coach to turn Tua Tagovailoa into a success.

McDaniel had significant input in the San Francisco 49ers’ running game during his time working under Kyle Shanahan. Implementing an offense built around a dominant ground attack that relies heavily on intermediate passing concepts that get receivers in space is an ideal way to harness consistent high-floor performances out of Tagovailoa. McDaniel should help Tagovailoa reach a high baseline of performance, the challenge will be trying to elevate him to a ceiling many doubt he can come close to.

New England Patriots – Trading for DeVante Parker

Savvy Patriots moves are tough to identify following an offseason in which they have made a series of eyebrow-raising decisions.

The Patriots have at least attempted to give Mac Jones more playmakers, the most impactful of which may be Parker. New England sent a third next year to the Dolphins to acquire Parker, who at 6ft 3in and 219 pounds gives Jones a big target who can win at the catch point and had a 1,000-yard season as recently as 2019. It was a relatively low-risk gamble for a team light on difference-making pass-catchers.

New York Jets – Signing Laken Tomlinson

The Jets had to hand a lucrative contract to attract Tomlinson in free agency, signing him to a three-year $40 million deal, but his presence will be extremely valuable to Zach Wilson.

Tomlinson is a durable and reliable guard whose experience solidifies the interior of a Jets offensive line that allowed more pressure than Zach Wilson could handle as a rookie. Wilson will still not have the wall he played behind in college at BYU, but Tomlinson’s arrival at least improves the prospect of a year-two jump.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens – Adding Morgan Moses

It would be easy to focus on the Ravens ending Kyle Hamilton’s draft slide and putting together an excellent safety group at a time where talent at the position is extremely valuable.

But the offensive line was a massive problem for the Ravens last year and, by adding Moses – a veteran starting right tackle – on a three-year, $15 million deal, the right side looks a lot more solid. The play of rookie center Tyler Linderbaum and left tackle Ronnie Stanley’s durability will go a long way to determining the overall success of this unit. However, with Kevin Zeitler and Moses to his right, Linderbaum can attack his first season with a feeling of security.

Cincinnati Bengals – Drafting Dax Hill

We’re flipping the script here and going safety over offensive line. La’El Collins’ arrival at right tackle on a three-year, $21 million deal may be the most important move of the offseason for the Bengals, but it was an obvious one once the Cowboys let him walk.

A savvier decision was the selection of versatile safety Dax Hill after franchising Jessie Bates III. With no sign of a long-term deal with Bates yet and Vonn Bell entering the final year of his contract, picking Hill protected Cincinnati and ensured they will have an impressive safety pair if one of Bates or Bell is gone next year. That is contingent, of course, on Hill panning out and shining as a rookie.

Cleveland Browns – The Amari Cooper trade

It is easy to forget given the trade that took place soon after that the Browns acquired another star who will improve the passing game this offseason.

And they did so for a very low price.

The Browns sent a fifth-round pick to the Cowboys and swapped picks in the sixth round to land Cooper, a bonafide starting receiver with a history of production whose 28 receiving touchdowns since 2018 are the 10th most among wideouts in that time. That is value pure and simple and a move that should help the Browns’ passing game move regardless of who is at quarterback.

Pittsburgh Steelers – Signing Larry Ogunjobi

The Steelers already had excellent defensive line depth before they added Ogunjobi to the mix in late June.

Benefiting from Ogunjobi failing a physical with the Bears in free agency, the Steelers brought in a penetrating defensive tackle coming off a career year in which he had 7.5 sacks and 16 quarterback hits for the Bengals. Ogunjobi has double-digit quarterback hits in three of the last four seasons and, playing on a front with T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward, is in an excellent situation to produce in a substantial way for a team that will likely need the defense to carry the load.

AFC South

Houston Texans – The Deshaun Watson trade

It’s difficult to praise anybody in the Deshaun Watson saga, but the Texans – from a football standpoint – have come out of it in an extremely good position.

With first-rounders in the next two drafts along with a host of other selections, the Texans are set up to turn the ship around having had little resource to work with following the end of the Bill O’Brien era. A successful rebuild now depends on them using the capital they have amassed correctly and finding the right quarterback.

Indianapolis Colts – The Matt Ryan trade

Had the Colts not backed Frank Reich to work his magic with Carson Wentz again, they would not have been left in scramble mode looking for yet another quarterback.

While the process in giving up a premium pick for an inherently flawed quarterback in Wentz that led them to make the deal for Ryan was bad, it’s tough to argue with the end result.

Indianapolis surrendered only a third-round pick for a quarterback who is still a top-half starter in the NFL and played well under heavy fire for the Falcons last year. Playing behind an offensive line that should allow him more time, Ryan can elevate the Colts back to the postseason. The trade was excellent business for the Colts, even if it came after some extremely bad business.

Jacksonville Jaguars – Hiring Doug Pederson

Speaking of bad process, ladies and gentlemen the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars’ coaching search lasted longer than any team’s this offseason, but they eventually got to a decision that will theoretically help put their quarterback and their franchise on the right path.

Expecting Trevor Lawrence to hit the ground running as a rookie with Urban Meyer as a first-time head coach represented a fantasy. With Pederson, Lawrence will be working under an experienced and largely successful coach who knows how to tailor an offense to the strengths of his quarterback. Jacksonville’s moves in free agency and the draft were often perplexing, but they should be better in 2022 because of the hiring of Pederson.

Tennessee Titans – Drafting Malik Willis

The Titans clearly ended the season knowing a reset was needed and that they cannot ride with Ryan Tannehill much longer at quarterback. His three-interception performance in the playoff defeat to the Bengals hammered home the second point.

Tennessee has likely got as much as possible out of a low-risk bet on Tannehill and, if the Titans are to remain contenders long term, they will likely need a dual-threat quarterback who fits where the game is going at the position. In that sense, the decision to pick Willis in the third round was an astute one. He has the arm talent and the athletic traits to be a superstar at the highest level but requires time to learn an NFL offense and must vastly improve his processing.

Tannehill is a perfect bridge until Willis is ready. He will keep the Titans competitive and is unlikely to rock the boat even after seeing the Titans pick a potential successor. Willis may not work out as an NFL quarterback, but at the price they paid, he was well worth a swing for the Titans.

AFC West

Denver Broncos – Adding D.J. Jones to the defensive line

The Broncos’ fortunes in 2022 and beyond will hinge primarily on the success of the Russell Wilson trade. However, taking a more granular look at their offseason, the signing of Jones stands out as one that could greatly improve an area of weakness.

Denver’s run defense ranked 21st in Football Outsiders DVOA last season. Jones, meanwhile, was a key cog in a 49ers defense that was second by that same metric. The former sixth-round pick does an excellent job against double teams from his nose tackle position but also has the athleticism to penetrate and can make an impact as a pass rusher. If the Broncos’ defense is a force again this season, Jones will likely have played a massive role.

Kansas City Chiefs – Replacing Tyrann Mathieu with Justin Reid

Mathieu has been crucial to the Chiefs’ defense over the course of their recent success under Andy Reid. They parted ways after a down year for the veteran safety but did an excellent job in replacing him with one of the more underrated players at the position in the NFL.

Reid has flown under the radar during his time with the Texans. He is, however, a rangy safety with excellent closing speed who has experience playing the deep middle, the box, and in the slot. With 23 pass breakups and seven interceptions to his name since entering the NFL in 2018, Reid has the skill set to quickly blossom into an impact playmaker for the Chiefs.

Kansas City will get that playmaking potential at a cheap cost in 2022, with Reid counting just $4.55 million against the cap. And, still only 25, he can be a difference-maker for the long term for the Chiefs.

Las Vegas Raiders – Appointing Patrick Graham defensive coordinator

One of Josh McDaniels’ most important decisions after being hired as head coach was the selection of his defensive coordinator. In Patrick Graham, he may well have nailed the hire.

Graham turned the New York Giants’ defense into a surprising strength in 2020. While 2021 was a down year, he should be able to harness more success out of the talent Las Vegas has at its disposal.

The Raiders excelled up front last year, posting a pass-rush win rate of 44 per cent that was eighth in the NFL according to ESPN. Where Graham will likely make the biggest difference is with a vulnerable Raiders secondary.

Having played for Gus Bradley last year, the Raiders should not have much difficulty transitioning to a coordinator who also plays a lot of Cover 3. Yet Graham does a better job of diversifying his coverages, utilizing more two-high shells than Bradley. Taking away that predictability may be enough for the Raiders’ defense to make the leap in 2022.

Los Angeles Chargers – Drafting JT Woods

There are several directions we could go in with the Chargers, who enjoyed an outstanding offseason to put themselves in an excellent position to contend this year.

What makes the selection of JT Woods so important is the impact it could have on one of their most established and dynamic defensive players. Woods has the speed and range to immediately slot in and play a deep safety role alongside Nasir Adderley.

With the level to which the Chargers rely on two-high coverages, having Woods and Adderley deep should enable them to unleash Derwin James to have a more telling impact on the game with versatility that allows him to cover the slot, operate in the box and excel near the line of scrimmage.

Third-round safeties are rarely considered the final piece of the puzzle but, with what he could do for James, Woods may just be that for the Chargers’ defense.

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys – The Michael Gallup extension

Injury may have prevented Gallup from building on his 1,000-yard season from 2019 but, by backing him to get back to his best and tying him to a five-year deal with an average annual value of $11.5 million, the Cowboys are getting the prime years of his career at an extremely reasonable price.

Since 2019, Gallup has averaged 15 yards per reception, the 11th-most in the NFL. The Cowboys will look very smart if he returns to top form in 2022.

New York Giants – Signing Jon Feliciano

Feliciano’s arrival on a one-year, $1.15 million contract will not have moved the needle for most. However, if Daniel Jones and the offensive line are to succeed in 2022, Feliciano will play a key role.

Coming over from Buffalo, Feliciano already has intimate knowledge of head coach Brian Daboll’s offense. He will know all the protections and can significantly ease the transition for Jones. Additionally, his experience will be a huge help to a likely starting left guard in Shane Lemieux who has only started 10 games in his career. Feliciano also offers the versatility to play guard if injury strikes a Giants offensive line on track to make strides this season.

Philadelphia Eagles – Signing Jaquiski Tartt

While he may forever be remembered for that dropped interception in last season’s NFC Championship Game, Tartt had quietly formed one of the better safety duos in the NFL with former 49ers teammate Jimmie Ward.

San Francisco’s decision not to re-sign him is a curious one, but Philadelphia took advantage and added a player who improves what had become the glaring weakness of their defense. Tartt can play the deep middle in single-high and two-high looks but does a lot of his best work in the box. By signing Tartt to a $1.12 million contract – and likely pairing him with Anthony Harris – in a deal following on from the James Bradberry acquisition, the Eagles’ secondary looks in substantially better shape.

Washington Commanders – Securing Terry McLaurin’s prime

On the list of things to get excited about for the Commanders, McLaurin sits right at the top. If their offense is to be successful this season with Carson Wentz at quarterback and in the future, Washington will need a receiver who has blossomed into a dynamic number one.

In signing him through the 2025 season, the Commanders have secured McLaurin’s prime and ensured that, irrespective of whether Wentz pans out, the quarterback they have under center will have a top-tier receiver who can help elevate the passing attack.

NFC North

Chicago Bears – The Jaquan Brisker pick

Though the Bears did little to build around Justin Fields in the offseason, their secondary should be stronger after pairing Brisker, an athletically gifted playmaking safety who excels in the box, with Eddie Jackson and then adding Kyler Gordon to their cornerback group.

Yet this is less about who the Bears picked and more about establishing an identity. Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus look to have done that on defense by committing to building back to front. It may take some time for them to see the rewards, however, savvy Bears moves have been thin on the ground this year, and the apparent formation of this plan is what stands out as the most significant aspect of their offseason.

Detroit Lions – Bringing in D.J. Chark

There is going to be too much hype around the Lions in 2022. It’s unavoidable after their feisty 2021 season and an offseason in which they made a series of smart moves.

The capture of Chark on a one-year, $10 million deal did not generate much fanfare, but it gives Jared Goff a downfield target who can create explosive plays and ensure there is not too much pressure on Jameson Williams to perform right away when he returns from injury. Though Chark might not help the Lions overachieve in 2022, he is an astute stopgap signing at receiver.

Green Bay Packers – Building interior depth with Jarran Reed

The Packers are clearly going to lean heavily on their defense in 2022. While much attention was given to them spending both of their first-round picks on front seven players in Devonte Wyatt and Quay Walker, a more impactful arrival for the immediate future is that of Reed.

Reed’s sack production has been quite volatile – he had only 2.5 last year – but he has consistently disrupted the quarterback. He has 58 quarterback hits since 2018, the ninth-most among defensive tackles in that span. Getting Reed on a one-year deal worth $4.5 million is an underrated piece of business that could pay significant dividends if a rotation including him, Kenny Clark and Wyatt delivers the desired results.

Minnesota Vikings – Taking a chance on Andrew Booth Jr.

With Patrick Peterson entering his age-33 season, the Vikings needed reinforcements at cornerback this offseason. They waited until the second round of the draft to pick one, landing a player who could have gone in the first if not for injuries.

If he can stay healthy, Booth can be an asset to the Minnesota defense. He has the size and length for the position and excels across both man and zone coverage. Aggressive and physical in the run game, Booth has the potential to prove a steal for the Vikings.

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons – Ending Arnold Ebiketie’s wait

The Falcons officially pressed the reset button with the trade of Matt Ryan. The resurgence for Atlanta will come quicker if several of the players from an impressive-looking draft pan out.

Of the selections made, grabbing Arnold Ebiketie in the second round could prove the Falcons’ shrewdest move. Ebiketie is a long and athletically gifted pass rusher who can win with power, intelligent hand usage, and flexibility when working around the edge. He has the attributes to make an instant impact as a rookie and the attention he could attract with his play on the edge may free up Grady Jarrett to rediscover his best on the interior.

Carolina Panthers – A bargain deal for Bradley Bozeman

In a vacuum, the Baker Mayfield trade looks a clever move by the Panthers. Yet the scattershot approach to their offseason and specifically the quarterback spot has been anything but savvy.

Mayfield, though, will get to play with a veteran center after the Panthers were able to ink former Raven Bradley Bozeman to a one-year, $2.8 million deal. All the attention on the offensive line will be on first-round tackle Ikem Ekwonu but the relationship between Bozeman and Mayfield could have just as much of a bearing on Carolina’s fortunes.

New Orleans Saints – Signing Jarvis Landry

The Saints have made several moves to put the best support system possible around Jameis Winston. There may be none he appreciates more than the signing of Landry, who arrived on a one-year $3 million deal.

Landry endured an injury-hindered final season with the Cleveland Browns in 2021 but still showed the ability to separate from the slot. At the low cost they paid for him, Landry can provide significant value for money as an underneath option who can help Winston take care of the ball and serve as a complementary option to Chris Olave and Michael Thomas.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – The Shaq Mason trade

The Bucs made sure they should not feel the effects of Ali Marpet’s retirement by striking a trade to quickly replace him at right guard. In landing Mason, the Bucs secured the services of one of the premier run-blocking guards in the NFL and one who already has significant experience of playing with Tom Brady from their time together in New England. For the price of a fifth-round pick, this was one of the best moves of the entire offseason.

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals – Drafting Cameron Thomas

Arizona’s offseason was defined by several bemusing moves, but the Cardinals did make selections in the draft that have a chance to help them maintain a strong pass rush even after Chandler Jones’ departure.

Third-round picks were used on edge rushers Cameron Thomas and Myjai Sanders. The former, with his ability to win around the edge and to the inside, projects as an excellent mentee for J.J. Watt. With the chance to benefit from Watt’s wisdom, Thomas – who had 20.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks in his final season at San Diego State – could quickly develop into a versatile force on the defensive line.

Los Angeles Rams – Cooper Kupp’s extension

Handing Kupp an extension was always a no-brainer move, but it is the contract structure that is worthy of praise.

The three-year, $80.1 million extension has an average annual value of $26.7 million and keeps Kupp signed through the 2026 season. Los Angeles, though, can get out of the deal as early as 2025, when Kupp will be 32.

With Kupp counting just $17.8 million against the cap this year, the Rams will pay him an average of a little under $24 million over the three years before they could move on. It’s a big number, but amid an exploding receiver market, represents superb value for arguably the league’s premier offensive playmaker.

San Francisco 49ers – Signing Charvarius Ward

The Niners’ free agency was focused predominantly on moves around the margins. They did make a big-ticket signing, though, one that could soon look an intelligent investment.

Former Chiefs cornerback Ward addressed a key area of need for San Francisco and his skill set should offer the 49ers the opportunity to play more man coverage. Ward is also a sound zone corner who could move inside to the slot on nickel downs and excels making plays at the catch point – he registered 10 pass breakups and two interceptions last season – an area where the Niners’ corners have often struggled. Only 27 and signed to a contract worth an average annual value of $13.5 million, San Francisco is getting the prime years of an underrated starting corner without paying a premium.

Seattle Seahawks – Eschewing a quarterback in the draft

There was a lot of hype around the Seahawks potentially taking Malik Willis with the ninth overall pick in the draft. While Willis would have provided excitement for a rebuilding team, the Seahawks understood their second biggest issue in the wake of the Russell Wilson trade and took a more sensible approach.

Selecting Charles Cross ninth overall and then taking another tackle, Abraham Lucas, in the third round gave the Seahawks two players at a premium position they can develop on the field while there are zero expectations of success. Essentially, they can make their mistakes in a pressure-free environment and, if they develop into solid starters, the Seahawks will be in a much better position to take their swing on a quarterback and get back to the thick of the NFC West battle.

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