Every NFL Team’s Smartest Offseason Decision so Far

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Every NFL Team’s Smartest Offseason Decision so Far

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    The heaviest waves of veteran movement in the NFL come at the start of the new league year. Between free agency opening up and roster bonus dates—which create deadlines for cap casualties and trades—coming into play, the NFL drastically reshuffles itself within a week.

    Not even one full week into the new league year, the vast majority of the clear starting-level talent on the market has been scooped up. We’ll take you through each team’s best move this offseason, whether that’s who they picked up, who they avoided, who they re-signed, who they let walk, who they traded or who they released.

    Only one team is going to come out of this season with a Super Bowl ring, but there is a quality decision, at least on the surface, that every franchise in the league has made in the last month.

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    The Arizona Cardinals, coming off of a 3-13 season, obviously were not the most talented team coming into the offseason. But somewhat surprisingly, the team, led by head coach Kliff Kingsbury transitioning from the college level, has been extremely active this offseason.

    Before the league year even began, Arizona signed three veterans who were cap casualties: cornerback Robert Alford, pass-rusher Brooks Reed and tight end Charles Clay. Alford, a 30-year-old with 85 pass deflections and 10 interceptions in his career, has started 76 games in the NFL. Reed, who just turned 32, has tallied 54 quarterback hits, 35 tackles for loss and 21.5 sacks in 86 starts. Clay, a 30-year-old with 3,631 receiving yards and 23 receiving touchdowns, has started 100 games in the NFL.

    The Cardinals also made a trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers for right tackle Marcus Gilbert, a 31-year-old who has started 87 games in his eight-year career. The cost of the bookend? A sixth-round pick. Not bad for a team that gave up a sack on 9.5 percent of dropbacks last season, the 27th-ranked mark in the league.

    Once the legal tampering window opened, the Cardinals came to terms with 36-year-old pass-rusher Terrell Suggs, who currently has the most career sacks (132.5) among active NFL players after Julius Peppers’ retirement. While most of the league spent their offseason drooling over 20-somethings cashing in on big contracts, Arizona went for aging veterans who can smooth out the holes in their roster in the short term.

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    For the second straight year, the Atlanta Falcons’ cap situation has kept them from making a large splash in free agency. Currently, the Falcons have just $7.3 million available in cap space, 31st in the league. This, in part, is because the squad elected to use the $15.2 million franchise tag on defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, who now has the second-highest cap hit on the team.

    Over the last two seasons, Jarrett has recorded 10 sacks and 23 tackles for loss. The only defensive tackles to surpass those numbers in that period are Akiem Hicks, Cameron Heyward, Aaron Donald, Jurrell Casey and Geno Atkins. Of that group, Hicks is on the cheapest deal ($48 million), Donald is on the most expensive deal ($135 million) and Heyward, Casey and Atkins are on contracts that range from $59.2 million to $65.2 million.

    A $15.2 million cap hit feels like a lot now, but Jarrett is putting up numbers that warrant a blockbuster contract. Making sure that they were able to negotiate with Jarrett through the summer on a multi-year deal was the best thing the Falcons could have done this offseason, and the franchise tag ensured they would be his sole suitor in the 2019 offseason.

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Michael Crabtree had his worst season in the NFL in 2018, finishing with 3.4 receptions per game (a career low), 37.9 yards per game (another career low) and a 54.0 percent catch rate (you guessed it, another career low.) Just one season into a three-year, $21 million contract that only paid out $8 million in the first year, the Baltimore Ravens moved on from the 31-year-old, who was a free-agent signing in 2018.

    By accounting for $4.7 million in dead cap in 2019, they avoided paying him the remaining $13 million he was owed over the 2019 and 2020 seasons. Baltimore can now focus on reshaping its receiving unit in the Lamar Jackson era.

    Currently, the only returning wide receiver on the roster who had more than 200 yards last season is Willie Snead. Assume the Ravens will utilize the cap space provided by the Crabtree release and be active in the free-agent receiver market moving forward.

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    Mark Tenally/Associated Press

    You may not be familiar with Ty Nsekhe, but there’s a good reason for that. Coming out of Texas State, Nsekhe was a two-way player for four different Arena Football League teams from 2009 to 2012. A short preseason stint with the Indianapolis Colts in August 2012 led to the then-St. Louis Rams adding him to their active roster a month later. That season, he wound up playing two games for the Rams as a 27-year-old rookie.

    He was released the following offseason, and after a brief stint with the New Orleans Saints, he spent time in the Canadian Football League and rejoined the AFL. He didn’t play in another regular-season NFL game until he was picked up by the Washington Redskins in 2015.

    In 2018, Nsekhe, now 33 years old, became a first-time unrestricted free agent in the NFL. While he has never been a full-time starter, he has started 16 games over the last four years in Washington. Because of his age, the Buffalo Bills were able to land Nsekhe on a two-year, $14.5 million contract with $7.7 million guaranteed. According to Spotrac, those practical guarantees rank 87th among active NFL contracts.

    For a tackle whom Pro Football Focus ranked 19th in 2016 and 42nd in 2018, that’s about as good of a deal as you’re going to get on the open market.

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    One of the biggest questions the Carolina Panthers needed to address this offseason was what the team did at the center position in the post-Ryan Kalil era. While Kalil had started 145 games for the Panthers since 2007, he missed 18 games over the last three years due to injury. In December, the 33-year-old announced his retirement from football.

    With a five-time Pro Bowler leaving, Carolina needed to fill the hole in their offensive line with a quality player. The candidate that made the most sense was former Denver Bronco Matt Paradis, who was Pro Football Focus’ second-ranked center in the league last season.

    For $29 million over three years, the Panthers were able to secure Paradis’ services. There is some risk involved considering Paradis only started nine games in 2018 due to a fractured fibula, but the incoming talent they added is higher than the 2018 version of Kalil.

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Cordarrelle Patterson: first-round bust and potentially the greatest kick returner ever. That’s what the Chicago Bears got with a two-year, $10 million contract.

    In New England last year, Patterson was used more as a running back and jet-sweep player (42 carries) than a traditional receiver (21 receptions), but his calling card has always been his ability as a kick returner. Since he entered the league in 2013, Patterson has taken back six kick returns for touchdowns, three times more than any other individual in the league over that time.

    Among post-merger players in NFL history with 50 or more kick returns, Patterson ranks first in yards per kick return. The distance between Patterson (29.98 yards) and the second-ranked player (Joe McKnight: 28.73) is nearly the distance between the second-ranked player and the seventh-ranked player (Ameer Abdullah: 27.47.) Patterson is clearly in a class of his own, and at age 27, he has plenty of career ahead of him.

    As a Chicago Bear, he will likely earn his seventh kick return touchdown, which would give him the third-most in NFL history behind Josh Cribbs and Leon Washington.

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    Gary Landers/Associated Press

    The tight end market got silly this offseason. After drafting two tight ends in the top 100 last year, the Baltimore Ravens gave blocking tight end Nick Boyle (613 career receiving yards) a three-year, $18 million deal. In the same division, the Cincinnati Bengals had to make a decision about Tyler Kroft (661 career receiving yards).

    In the end, Kroft signed with the Buffalo Bills on a deal that nearly mirrored Boyles’: $18.75 million over three years. At some point, you have to question the real value of a blocking tight end. If he is only generating about 150 yards per season, is he even being respected in the passing game? Would that money not be of better use on a swing tackle, who can come in as a sixth offensive lineman to block as a tight end and likely receive the same amount of respect running routes?

    At least a swing tackle would be able to start at offensive tackle in an injury situation, something that is increasingly important as collapsing offensive lines tank passing games by midseason in today’s NFL. Bengals tackle Jake Fisher reportedly has been dropping weight to become a blocking tight end professionally, a great career choice if they are going to get paid like low-level starters and high-level swing tackles.

    If the Bengals can get Fisher back in that role on the cheaper side, they will never regret Kroft walking out the door.

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Before free agency even officially opened, the Cleveland Browns made one of the splashiest moves of the offseason by trading 2019 first- and third-round picks and safety Jabrill Peppers to the New York Giants for three-time Pro Bowl receiver Odell Beckham Jr. It is always hard to gauge the value of a trade with so many moving parts, but luckily, Pro Football Focus did the math.

    PFF’s Eric Eager claims said the WAR (wins above replacement) of those two picks and Peppers is worth 1.85 wins over the lifetime of their projected contracts. Beckham was worth 1.95 WAR in just 2018.

    That means if Beckham’s 2019 matches his 2018, the Browns will already be in the black one year into the trade. On top of that, Cleveland gets Beckham on a contract that will not have his signing bonus prorated onto their cap, meaning their cap hits from 2019 to 2022 will be $16 million cheaper than what the Giants were slated to account for.

    Beckham also has no guaranteed money left on his deal after the 2019 season, meaning he is essentially playing out a one-year deal with four team options as it currently stands. Cleveland should get more out of Beckham this year than the three assets it sent to New York will be worth for four seasons combined. After that, the Browns can drop Beckham’s salary if he is not worth his pay. Cleveland general manager John Dorsey certainly got the better end of a lopsided deal.

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    Sometimes negotiations aren’t pretty.

    Dallas Cowboys pass-rusher Demarcus Lawrence joins running back Le’Veon Bell and quarterback Kirk Cousins in a group of players who not only played through one franchise tag but were hit with back-to-back franchise tags. In search of a long-term deal, Lawrence and the Cowboys came to no resolution after the last tag, but hopefully they can reach a multiyear deal before the deadline this summer.

    While Lawrence is reportedly threatening to not even have shoulder surgery until he receives a long-term contract, making the Cowboys risk Lawrence potentially rehabbing during the season at the cost of $20.6 million, they had to do what they had to do. The options were let Lawrence leave this offseason for a 2020 compensatory third-round pick, potentially destabilizing a playoff season with quarterback Dak Prescott still on a cheap rookie contract, or applying a second tag to Lawrence.

    When part-time starters like Za’Darius Smith went for $66 million on the open market, it showed why Dallas’ only option was to franchise-tag Lawrence in an effort to work out a long-term deal with him. The downside is paying $20.6 million if, for whatever reason, his play falls off in 2019, but considering a multiyear contract would command well more than that in guarantees, the offset is minimal.

    If worst comes to worst, the Cowboys can shop him to potential suitors who would be willing to give him the commitment he is looking for, like the Kansas City Chiefs did with Dee Ford. Ford commanded a 2020 second-round pick and a new contract in a trade to the San Francisco 49ers, meaning the Chiefs came away with better than they would have gotten had they let him walk in free agency.  

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    Case Keenum was clearly not the answer at quarterback in Denver, but no one knew if the Broncos would be looking to replace him in free agency or through the draft until they traded for Joe Flacco, who was benched last year in Baltimore for rookie Lamar Jackson. At first, the idea of a Flacco rebirth seemed laughable. Over the last two years, no quarterback with 25 or more starts had a lower Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt (ANY/A) than he did.

    In short, he was the worst quarterback to see the most playing time. The reactions were immediate: How could the Broncos just settle for a quarterback like that this early into the offseason?

    Then came the Nick Foles contract. By no means is this a claim that Flacco is going to succeed in Denver, but having him on a contract with $0 guaranteed compared to Foles’ $50.1 million guaranteed is a much better option. When a quarterback like Patrick Mahomes (2018 ANY/A: 8.9) is in your division, neither Flacco (2017-2018 ANY/A: 5.2) nor Foles (2017-2018 ANY/A: 5.9) is moving the needle. During the regular season, Foles has only been marginally better than Blake Bortles (ANY/A: 5.8) over the last two years.

    The Broncos probably didn’t find the answer to their quarterback situation with Flacco, but they did take themselves out of the bidding for Foles, who now has the potential to hinder the Jacksonville Jaguars’ salary cap for the next three years. Having Flacco essentially play out option years gives them flexibility, which is important when your quarterback is a borderline starter.

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    Last season, Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald signed top-tier contracts as defenders that slated them for a combined $276 million, completely resetting the market for what star defenders are worth. As the top pass-rusher available on the open market this offseason, many thought Trey Flowers, coming off of a Super Bowl win with the New England Patriots, would break the bank.

    Instead of matching Mack’s contract, Flowers signed a five-year, $90 million deal with Detroit that came one year and $51 million short of Mack’s deal. On top of that, Mack’s $60 million guaranteed at signing is over 50 percent more than Flowers received.

    After a hard market reset, like we saw on pass-rushers last year, the free-agent market, usually filled with players just a tier below the stars who do the resetting, generally follows. For whatever reason, Flowers, who was named a Pro Football Focus second-team All-Pro list last season, was unable to get that type of money.

    The Lions are the beneficiary of that. While the edge-rusher market is likely to keep expanding over the next five years, the Lions are only on the hook for an average of $15.3 million in cash per year for Flowers’ services from 2020 to 2023.   

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    Mike Roemer/Associated Press

    One of the biggest questions this offseason was what the Green Bay Packers would do with Nick Perry’s contract, considering his large signing bonus and how much of that prorated bonus had yet to hit the salary cap. If they designated him a post-June 1 release, they would save no immediate cap space for free agency. If they released him before June 1, they would eat $11 million in dead cap. If they let him play out the year, would he be worth the money?

    In the end, the Packers took the option of immediate cap space with a pre-June 1 release. That allowed them to fit the first years of free-agent signings Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith under the cap. Only after the news broke that Green Bay was signing the two pass-rushers did it become clear Perry would be released.

    Perry, who was slated to make north of $32 million over the next three seasons, was cut for an $11 million dead-cap figure. According to Spotrac, it is the sixth-largest dead-cap number for an individual in the 2019 season. While most of the cap relief will be felt in 2020 and 2021, moving on from Perry and signing the Smiths as starters was a great turn of the tide at the edge positions.

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    Michael Wyke/Associated Press

    As with most of the franchise-tagged players, the theme of the Jadeveon Clowney tag is that the Houston Texans could not let him walk for a compensatory pick.

    The 2014 first overall pick, Clowney has racked up 24.5 sacks and 53 tackles for loss over the last three seasons. The only players to match those stats are Chandler Jones and Aaron Donald.

    Two years ago, Jones earned an $82.5 million contract, meaning the $15.4 million Clowney is due in 2019 is a fraction of what his multiyear extension could be worth. Clowney is a 26-year-old star who would have been the premier defensive lineman in the 2019 free-agency class. Houston needed to ensure it got more than a 2020 third-round compensatory pick for his services. Working on a long-term extension with the safety net of being able to shop him for a higher draft pick was the right thing to do.

    The stability Clowney brings the team also has value. Defensively, Houston’s only other players under contract with 20 or more starts over the last two years are Benardrick McKinney, D.J. Reader, Zach Cunningham, J.J. Watt and soon-to-be 35-year-old Johnathan Joseph. With defenders rotating in and out of the lineup as frequently as they are in Houston, it must feel nice for the Texans to hang their hat on Clowney for another year.

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    You do not see situations like his in the NFL often, but 2013 second-round pick Margus Hunt had a breakout year as a 31-year-old in 2018. The former Estonian shot putter recorded 15 of his 20 career starts for the Indianapolis Colts last year during a playoff run, vaulting him into the conversation of breakout defensive linemen.

    He posted 13 tackles for loss, something only seven other players listed at 280 pounds or more were able to do, according to Pro Football Reference. When you make it on a list with Chris Jones, Geno Atkins, DeForest Buckner, Calais Campbell, J.J. Watt, Cameron Jordan and Aaron Donald, teams will fight for your services.

    The worries about giving Hunt a multiyear contract were his age and the possibility he was a one-year wonder. Before free agency began, Hunt re-signed with the Colts on a two-year, $9 million deal that is cheap for a starting veteran defensive lineman. According to Spotrac, his average salary of $4.5 million per year ranks 50th among defensive linemen, and only 77 make more than $1 million per year on their current contracts.

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The Jacksonville Jaguars have released 2014 third overall pick Blake Bortles after he started five years for the team. Of the 24 quarterbacks with 1,500 or more pass attempts over the course of Bortles’ NFL run, he finished dead last in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt.

    Moving on from Bortles’ contract allowed the Jaguars to save $8.4 million in cash in 2019, earn some cap relief and open up a roster spot for someone who could compete to be their quarterback of the future. Keeping Bortles at his price point when he had previously been benched by the likes of Chad Henne and Cody Kessler was not an option.

    Hopefully, after the Nick Foles signing, the team will still explore the NFL draft over the next two years to try to find a franchise passer. The Jaguars own the seventh overall pick in the draft, making it the 11th time in 12 years that they own a top-10 pick. Their two swings at quarterbacks in that range were misses (Blaine Gabbert and Bortles), but they need to keep swinging.

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    Ed Zurga/Associated Press

    Safety Eric Berry might bounce back with another team, but the Kansas City Chiefs could not keep him at his price. The five-time Pro Bowler only played in three games in the 2017 and 2018 seasons after he arguably had the best year of his career in 2016.

    Following his franchise-tag season in 2016, Berry signed a $78 million contract. Kansas City had a decision to make: Was Berry, averaging 1.5 games played per year, worth the $48.1 million in cash he was owed over the next four years? The answer was clearly no, so the Chiefs moved on.

    The release of Berry, along with the tag-and-trade of Dee Ford and the release of Justin Houston, showed an initiative by the team to have a full-blown restart on the defensive side of the ball while MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes is still on a rookie contract. Injuries put them in a tough position, and they chose to bite the bullet and get through this transitional period quickly.

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Chargers have been fairly quiet this offseason, but one major move was signing former Pro Bowl quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Taylor started in Buffalo for three years, and Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn was with the Bills for the first two. Taylor, 29, was the Week 1 starter in Cleveland in 2018 but was benched three games in for rookie first overall pick Baker Mayfield.

    Over the last four seasons, Taylor has an Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt of 6.06, a higher number than veterans like Cam Newton (6.02), Eli Manning (6.01), Nick Foles (5.43) and Joe Flacco (5.36.) He is a borderline starting quarterback who should bring the Chargers a higher passing efficiency than rookie passers traditionally do.

    On a two-year, $11 million contract, Taylor is also significantly cheaper than the likes of Newton, Manning, Foles and Flacco. According to Spotrac, Newton, Manning and Flacco will make between $16.7 million and $18.5 million in cash this year, while Foles will bring home about $30.8 million between his 2019 salary and signing bonus.

    Taylor is familiar with Lynn’s offense, is talented enough to push for a starting job, is a cheaper option than his peers and gives the Chargers some flexibility as starter Philip Rivers goes into the last year of his contract as a 37-year-old. This one checks all the boxes.

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Six-time Pro Bowl free safety Eric Weddle was a cap casualty for the Baltimore Ravens, who would later sign future Hall of Famer Earl Thomas to replace him. Weddle, before the new league year began, signed a two-year, $10.5 million contract with the Los Angeles Rams, providing experience and veteran depth at a position they have been trying solidify.

    Their 2018 starting free safety, Lamarcus Joyner, was franchise-tagged and played through his contract, costing the Rams $11.3 million in cap space last season. Weddle is making less than that over two years. Not only is Weddle a quality middle-of-the-field safety, but he also prevented Los Angeles from having to compete for Joyner’s services.

    Joyner signed a four-year, $42 million deal with the Oakland Raiders that would slate him to make $22 million over the first two seasons of the deal. Paying less than half price for an outgoing starter’s replacement? Savvy move, Les Snead.

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Officially, the Miami Dolphins have not done much this March. They released Ted Larsen, Andre Branch, Danny Amendola and Josh Sitton, they traded quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and they signed tight ends Dwayne Allen and Clive Walford. They also signed cornerback Eric Rowe, a former New England Patriot like Allen.

    The Dolphins’ official Twitter account noted they had a visit with potential starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who later re-signed to be the New Orleans Saints’ backup at the tune of $7.3 million on a one-year deal with $5 million more in incentives. Outside of that, Brian Flores has seemingly brought a piece of New England with him, as the early stages of free agency are quiet.

    The team can still make moves, like saving $12.9 million in cap space with the release of defensive end Robert Quinn, but they have yet to do it. Currently, the team is slated to have $95 million in cap space in 2020 without including the rollover of their sixth-ranked $35.1 million in 2019.

    Flores and Co. are stripping the team down to its bare contributors and are acting as if they have accepted this is going to be a long-term rebuild. There is no urgency to sign contracts when they are not in Super Bowl contention. More teams should take this approach with a new coaching staff.

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    Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

    2014 first-round pick Anthony Barr, after starting 71 games for the Minnesota Vikings, was one of the hottest names on the free-agent market during this cycle. After nearly signing with the New York Jets as a pass-rusher, Barr had a change of heart and returned to the Vikings on a five-year, $67.5 million contract.

    Despite the massive price tag, Barr will only cost the Vikings a $5.6 million cap hit in 2019 even though he is making $16 million in cash. By year three of his contract, he can be released for immediate cap savings of $7.7 million and cash savings of $41.4 million over three years. Essentially, he signed a two-year, $26.1 million contract with team options.

    One of the more interesting factoids of the Barr contract is that starting in 2020, he will have $3 million in incentives tied up to sack totals on a yearly basis. Could it be that after Everson Griffen is no longer starting, Barr—an off-ball linebacker who played a pass-rushing position in college—could transition to a pass-rushing role? If he succeeds in that transition, he will be playing well below the market price of a quality pass-rushing veteran, as he is being paid in line with the off-ball linebacker market.

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    Mark Tenally/Associated Press

    The New England Patriots almost always pick at the end of the draft. To make up for draft capital, they have to rely on compensatory draft picks from outgoing free agents. This year, the two major free agents the Patriots let walk were Trey Flowers and Trent Brown, who signed deals worth a combined $156 million.

    To keep their projected compensatory third-round picks, though, the Patriots needed to avoid spending big money in the free-agency market. Brown was easy to replace, as 2018 first-round pick Isaiah Wynn will likely step in as the team’s left tackle. But Flowers, a defensive end, had no real on-roster replacement.

    This is where the Michael Bennett trade comes into play. Bennett notched nine sacks in one season in Philadelphia as a pass-rushing specialist, and the three-time Pro Bowler will join New England at the cost of $15.2 million over two years and the swap of 2020 Day 3 selections. Essentially, the Patriots traded their 2020 fifth-round pick for Bennett, a 2020 seventh-round pick and the ability to retain their 2020 third-round compensatory pick (money that could have been spent in free agency on a pass-rusher).

    On top of that, there is no guaranteed money left on Bennett’s deal. He is functionally on a one-year deal and has to earn the $8 million owed to him in 2020, as the Patriots can release him with no dead cap. Bill Belichick continues to play chess.

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    Bill Feig/Associated Press

    Since 2014, Teddy Bridgewater has posted an Adjusted Yards per Attempt (AY/A) of 6.65, roughly equal to what Derek Carr (career earnings: $52 million) has recorded. An AY/A of 6.65 is also better than what slated veteran starters Case Keenum, Joe Flacco and Nick Foles have posted over more pass attempts.

    If New Orleans really does believe Bridgewater is their quarterback of the future, locking him into a one-year, $7.5 million rental to be Drew Brees‘ backup with the incentive to pay out $5 million more for performance in his absence is a minimal cost. He has only thrown 25 regular-season passes over the last three years, but we are not seeing him in practice every day like head coach Sean Payton is.

    With only one pick in the first 167 selections of the upcoming NFL draft, the Saints had few options to address the quarterback position before Brees’ contract runs out in 2020 as he turns 41 years old. When his contract does expire, they will still have to account for $21.3 million in dead cap beyond his deal because of the various restructures the Saints have worked into his contracts over time.

    The window is closing on the Brees era, and all parties involved are acting with that awareness. Bridgewater visited with the Miami Dolphins prior to signing his deal in New Orleans, presumably as a potential starter in 2019. There will be growing pains involved in the post-Brees rebuilding process, including but not limited to the dead cap on his expiring contract. However, the Saints seem confident that the 2019 third-round pick they traded for Bridgewater will eventually manifest into a candidate to be a Week 1 starter in 2020.

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    While the Odell Beckham Jr. trade is not going to make general manager Dave Gettleman any fans in New York, the Giants did make a savvy move for guard Kevin Zeitler. The team responded to losing two major offensive linemen in free agency last season by signing left tackle Nate Solder and drafting guard Will Hernandez in the second round, but the work was not finished.

    To acquire another sturdy offensive lineman, Gettleman sent pass-rusher Olivier Vernon to the Cleveland Browns for Zeitler. One of the major selling points on Zeitler is his contract. While Vernon was set to make $31 million in cash over the next two years before his contract expired, Zeitler will only make $32 million in cash over the next three years.

    The Giants offensive line has been a problem for years, but Gettleman managed to spin a pass-rusher into a guard making just $1 million more for an extra year under contract. To replace Vernon, New York recently signed Markus Golden, formerly of the Arizona Cardinals. Golden, who posted 12.5 of his 19 career sacks in 2016, has a history with current Giants defensive coordinator James Bettcher, who was the Cardinals’ defensive coordinator from 2015 to 2017.

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    One of the better moves the New York Jets made this offseason was trading for Kelechi Osemele, a guard who was under contract with the Oakland Raiders. Osemele was a Pro Bowler in 2016 and 2017 who has started 93 games for the Baltimore Ravens and Raiders over seven seasons.

    The cost was just a swap of a fifth-round pick for a sixth-round pick, virtually nothing in terms of meaningful draft capital. The Jets will only have to pay Osemele $21.9 million over the two remaining years of his contract, with no dead cap to take on if they want to move away in 2020.

    To put those numbers into perspective, Raiders free-agent offensive line signing Trent Brown is slated to make $36.8 million over the next two years with a $21.3 million dead-cap number in 2020. Denver Broncos offensive line signing Ja’Wuan James is slated to make $27 million over the next two years with a $19 million dead-cap number in 2020. Buffalo Bills offensive line signing Mitch Morse is slated to make $28.4 million over the next two years with a $10.3 million dead-cap number in 2020.

    Had the Jets added a top offensive line piece in free agency, it would have cost them more over the following two years, and they would not have the option to walk away if something changed over the next season. For a next-to-meaningless swap of draft picks, the Jets bought a two-time Pro Bowler on a cheaper deal with an easier out.

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    It cost the Chicago Bears more than a first-round pick to acquire star pass-rusher Khalil Mack just to pay him a blockbuster contract. It cost the Cleveland Browns more than a first-round pick to acquire star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. on his mega-deal. What did it cost to get seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown in an Oakland Raiders uniform? Third- and fifth-round picks.

    Brown’s contract is going to be framed as the biggest ever for a wide receiver on an average salary basis, but average salary does not accurately match cash flow when bonuses are spread over a different amount of years. Brown signed a three-year, $50.1 million contract with the Raiders once he was traded, but Beckham’s extension signed in 2018 is slated to make him $67 million between his signing bonus and the first three “new years” (2019-21) on his contract.

    The Raiders did not set the market rate for receivers. Beckham had already done that. What Oakland did was acquire a Pro Bowl wide receiver for two mid-round picks. Head coach Jon Gruden has made some questionable decisions, like paying Jordy Nelson‘s $3.6 million roster bonus just to release him, but the Brown trade was a massive win for the coach with nine years left on his contract.

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    Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

    Head decision-maker Howie Roseman is working magic in Philadelphia. Pass-rusher Brandon Graham signed a new multiyear contract that only has a $3.5 million cap hit in Year 1 of his deal. Left tackle Jason Peters restructured his contract to give him just a one-year, $6 million deal when the Eagles could have released him for over $10 million in cap space this offseason. Right tackle Lane Johnson restructured his contract down to a $7.1 million cap hit.

    With the help of that cap space, along with trading away defensive end Michael Bennett, the team was able to acquire receiver DeSean Jackson, a former Eagle, and extend him on a three-year, $27.6 million deal. Jackson, a known deep threat, is fourth all-time in team history in receiving yards, will likely ascend to third all-time this season and has a shot to finish second all-time after the next two years.

    According to Warren Sharp of Sharp Football, the routes Jackson typically succeeds in as a vertical receiver (go routes, post routes, comeback routes and seam routes) are also what quarterback Carson Wentz throws the best. Bringing back Jackson seems like a great fit, at least analytically.

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Let us revisit the Pittsburgh Steelers’ multiyear offer for Le’Veon Bell last summer. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported that the Steelers’ offer only guaranteed Bell’s $10 million signing bonus. The remaining money in the first two years of his contract were “rolling guarantees,” which is essentially a team option.

    In free agency this year, the New York Jets gave Bell $25 million in full guarantees at signing. In actual guarantees, not “rolling guarantees,” that ranks first among veteran running backs in the NFL.

    For comparison, here are the full guarantees for every veteran running back who’s making more than the Steelers’ Bell offer, according to Spotrac:

  • Bell: $25 million

  • David Johnson: $24.7 million

  • Todd Gurley: $22 million

  • LeSean McCoy: $18.3 million

  • Devonta Freeman: $17.3 million

  • Lamar Miller: $14 million

  • Jerick McKinnon: $11.7 million

If the Steelers were not willing to give Bell more fully guaranteed money than McKinnon (14 starts in five NFL seasons) and Bell thought he could reset the NFL running back market with guarantees, the two sides were never going to see eye-to-eye on a long-term contract. It was better for Pittsburgh to move on and Bell to sign a top-of-the-market deal, which both did.

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    Currently, the Seattle Seahawks have the fifth-most cap space in 2020 with a projected $93.1 million and the second-most in 2021 with a projected $151.4 million. While a potential Russell Wilson extension will cut into that space, they have very few long-term contracts that extend through the next three years. The only players slated to post a higher cap hit than kicker Jason Myers in two years are tackle Duane Brown and receiver Tyler Lockett.

    The Seahawks have plenty of room to sign difference-makers to long-term deals, and retaining defensive end Frank Clark’s rights were paramount. Even after Clark was hit with a $17.1 million tag, the Seahawks rank 18th with $21.5 million in cap space this year. Had they not applied the tag to Clark, they would currently rank third in NFL cap space, per Spotrac.

    Since entering the league in 2015, Clark has posted 35 sacks, a number only 15 other defenders have matched. He also did it by starting just 33 out of a potential 64 games over that time, as he was often working off the bench behind the likes of Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. Eleven of the other 15 players to record 35 or more sacks over the last four years have started at least 56 games, and Minnesota’s Danielle Hunter is the only other player drafted in the last four years to make the list.

    That is the type of defender you pay when you have long-term cap flexibility. Considering Seattle’s circumstances long-term, this move was a no-brainer but incredibly important for how the Seahawks build their team moving forward.

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    Since 2011, Robbie Gould has hit 25 of 29 field goals of 50 yards or longer (86.2 percent), making him the most accurate long-range kicker in the game over this time among kickers with more than 10 attempts. Only two other NFL kickers (Matt Bryant and Phil Dawson) are within 10 percent.

    The NFL average for this range is 63 percent, so over 29 field goals of 50-plus yards, Gould is worth roughly six long field goals above the NFL average. That does not include the value he possesses in the lower range. Gould also hit 90.1 percent of field goals (173-of-192) under 50 yards.

    Unlike most franchise tags, Gould is not a young star looking to sign his first multiyear contract. He’s a 36-year-old player at a cheap position. It makes sense the 49ers would be shy to give him a long contract considering his age. A $5 million cap hit is a safe short-term bet for a team that still has $32.6 million in cap space (ninth-most in the league) this season.

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    There is little nuance to this signing. Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians loved to air the ball out deep with the Arizona Cardinals, and he said quarterback Jameis Winston is one reason why he came out of retirement to coach the Bucs.

    “Bottom line: About 95 percent of the successful quarterbacks in the NFL are special people, not just robots with big arms,” Arians said. “They inspire others. They get teammates to do things they never thought possible. You want to be around that kind of quarterback.”

    One problem: Tampa Bay traded vertical threat DeSean Jackson to the Philadelphia Eagles as the cap-poor team tried to alleviate roster restrictions. The solution: signing Breshad Perriman to a much cheaper one-year, $4 million contract after he was allowed to walk from his agreement with the Cleveland Browns following their trade for former Giants star Odell Beckham Jr.

    The 25-year-old Perriman, a 2015 first-round pick who ran a 4.19-second 40-yard dash, broke out in 2018 with the Browns, catching 10 balls for 259 yards and two touchdowns in December. The potential that he’d carry over that December success, at 25.9 yards per reception, must have sold Arians on the wideout.

    With Mike Evans (a big-body receiver), Chris Godwin (a flexible option) and Perriman (a vertical threat), Arians has the start of a dangerous wide receivers room.

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    The highest-profile guard in this free-agent class was Rodger Saffold of the Los Angeles Rams, who played under former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur in an under-center, play-action-heavy system. After only suiting up for 52 of 80 games from 2011 to 2015, Saffold has been able to stay on the field recently, missing just two games the last three seasons.

    A 2017 second-team All-Pro guard, Saffold signed the largest contract for a guard in this free-agent class at $44 million over four years, but his deal is not in line with the top of the market at the position. According to Spotrac, his average salary is worth $3 million less per year than Zack Martin’s deal in Dallas and ranks sixth overall at the position. In guarantees at signing, he ranks ninth and $13 million behind Martin.

    Among all offensive linemen, his average salary ranks 26th, and his guarantees rank 27th. The Titans managed to pay a top offensive lineman familiar with their system, if they choose to roll it over, without overspending. Overpriced borderline All-Pros often fly off the boards quickly in free agency, so this is a major win for the Titans.

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    Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

    As mentioned in the Denver section, the best thing quarterback-needy teams could have done this offseason is to stay clear of the Nick Foles sweepstakes. Over the last two years, Case Keenum posted an Adjusted Yards per Attempt (ANY/A) of 6.12, higher than both Foles (5.90) and Joe Flacco (5.22.)

    Instead of paying Foles $50.1 million in guarantees or giving Flacco $18.5 million this season alone, Washington avoided the ring tax by trading a 2020 sixth-round pick for Keenum, a more efficient quarterback than either of those options over the last two years, and restructuring his deal to a $3.5 million, one-year contract.

    On March 17, Alex Smith’s 2020 salary will officially be guaranteed due to injury, meaning the Redskins will lock into a dead cap of $32.2 million in 2020 if they choose to release him straight up. With limited options because of the money tied up to a future dead-cap number, Washington did the best it could under the circumstances.

         

    Unless otherwise notes, stats in this article are provided by Pro Football Reference. All contract figures are courtesy of Spotrac.

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