With the NFL draft in the rear-view mirror and most free agents signed, we're squarely on the backend of the off-season. SI.com's staff takes advantage of the break in on-field action (of course, there's plenty of drama off the field) to examine what's happened so far. What's been the most impactful, significant move of the off-season? We discuss below.
Don Banks: The Vikings refuse to blink, resist trading Adrian Peterson—Though Peterson’s high-profile agent, Ben Dogra, agitated for his client’s trade long and hard this spring following AP's lost 2014 season, Minnesota held firm and never came close to capitulating to their disgruntled running back’s demands. Knowing they would be a much better team in 2015 with Peterson in their backfield, the on-the-way-up Vikings were wise to call his bluff, reminding him that he was under contract and had little leverage in this stand-off.
The team’s tough love approach suited no-nonsense Vikings coach Mike Zimmer perfectly. Calmly and rationally, Zimmer made a compelling case why it made no sense for Minnesota to deal away its best player and most valuable asset, all because Peterson got bruised feelings in the aftermath of a child abuse case that was completely a mess of his own making.
“Adrian’s under contract for three more years with us,’’ Zimmer said. “That’s why you sign those contracts, that’s why you get these big bonuses, you know? We’re planning on him being here.’’
Well played, Minnesota. The Vikings’ biggest call of 2015 was absolutely the right one.
Chris Burke: Darrelle Revis leaves the Patriots and signs with the Jets—All due respect to Jimmy Graham, who might prove this choice wrong in short order, it's Darrelle Revis signing with the Jets. The NFL does not produce seismic, intra-division free-agent moves like this one very often.
New England declined Revis's $20 million option for 2015, an understandable and necessary move that had to become even easier to swallow when the Jets then made Revis the game's highest-paid cornerback (five years, $70 million with $39 million guaranteed). There was no indication Bill Belichick and Co. were prepared to approach those figures. Belichick has found success without a lockdown cornerback before—his 2011 AFC title team leaned on Devin McCourty, right after he moved from CB to safety, Kyle Arrington and an otherwise rather rag-tag bunch. In losing Revis and Brandon Browner, though, the Super Bowl champions must reconfigure their entire defensive approach on the fly.
Revis turns 30 in July, so he may not be at an All-Pro level come the end of his new contract. He's there now. The Jets boast one of the league's more imposing defensive lines and can back it with a Revis-Antonio Cromartie tandem. Revis alone does not turn the Jets into a playoff team, but he pushes them much closer.
Ben Eagle: DeMarco Murray signs with the Eagles—Stealing the NFL's leading rusher away from your divisional rival? Yeah, I'd say that’s impactful.
DeMarco Murray entered the off-season plagued by questions. Can he stay healthy, especially after a season in which he touched the ball almost 450 times? Was he a product of that mammoth Cowboys’ O-line? Those concerns didn’t faze Chip Kelly and the Eagles. After trading away LeSean McCoy and attempting to sign Frank Gore, Philly inked Murray to a five-year, $40M deal. Can he stay upright? Who knows. When he is healthy, Murray is a decisive and powerful north-south runner who should flourish in Kelly’s potent offense.
And the Cowboys? They’re now depending on another injury-prone back: Darren McFadden.
Many question the work Kelly did this off-season, shipping out veterans and bringing in several players with injury questions. But when you look at both sides of the equation here, there’s no doubting the impact.
Doug Farrar: Bears hiring defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to replace Mel Tucker—The Bears have been known for their great defenses since the NFL's earliest days, which made last season's performance all the more troubling. The former Monsters of the Midway allowed the third-most yards, the third-most passing yards, the second-most points, the second-most net yards per passing attempt, the third-highest pass completion rate and the third-most yards per drive. Personnel was a bit of an issue, but the undynamic and inflexible schemes trotted out by defensive coordinator Mel Tucker? That was the real problem there.
But the Bears got a huge score when they snapped up Vic Fangio, the architect of San Francisco's recent defensive upswing. The 49ers let Fangio go in their recent front-office meltdown, despite the fact that his 2014 defense ranked fifth in Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted metrics. That was a surprise, given the on-field injuries and off-field turmoil that led to the absences of many of Fangio's stars. Like all great coaches, Fangio didn't blink—he plugged in replacements as best he could and kept rolling along. He'll do the same for a Bears' defense in transition—Fangio is one of the best at taking the talent available and moving all the pieces the right way. His hybrid fronts and advanced coverage concepts will have the Bears competing for the NFC North title after an off-year.
Bette Marston: Buccaneers drafting Jameis Winston with the No. 1 pick in the draft—Once Tampa Bay locked up the No. 1 pick and cut QB Josh McCown, it became obvious that they were targeting a franchise quarterback in the draft. What wasn't obvious was whether the organization would take Florida State's Jameis Winston or Oregon's Marcus Mariota. Both quarterbacks exuded brilliance on the field, but their off-field situations were two completely different stories. After conducting what he considered to be a completely thorough investigation, Bucs GM Jason Licht found no reason not to draft Winston as their quarterback of the future (sorry, Mike Glennon).
Now, Winston has a chance to completely change the outlook of this franchise, and it certainly won't be easy. On the field, Winston will face a large amount of pressure in the pocket; it's no secret that the Bucs' offensive line is a work in progress, despite drafting two offensive linemen in the second round. He'll have two huge receivers in Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson at his disposal, but they can't be effective if Winston's spending the majority of his time scrambling under pressure. But Winston's off-field behavior is what has most people concerned. There's no doubt his charisma will make him popular with the media and fans, and in the locker room, but will his immaturity follow him from his college days?
Fans and media alike will have high expectations for Winston, and Licht knows his job is on the line with this pick. High risk, high reward? You betcha.
Amy Parlapiano: Saints trading Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks—It may be the easy answer here, but there’s a reason why everyone lost their collective minds over the Max Unger-Jimmy Graham trade between New Orleans and Seattle. And while Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse are certainly valuable receivers, Russell Wilson now has an offensive weapon unlike any he’s had before. Seattle’s passing game, which has been relatively limited over the years, now has the ability to be consistently explosive, and it gives Wilson, who we all know has an arm, the chance to grow even more with a go-to playmaker at his disposal.
Meanwhile, in New Orleans, thanks to Unger, Drew Brees has the protection he needs on the line to make plays, but he’ll be without his key playmaker. How Brees fares this year without Graham will be key to whether the Saints need to enter complete rebuild-mode in 2016.
Eric Single: Buccaneers drafting Jameis Winston with the No. 1 pick in the draft—Just because the first pick of the draft was the off-season's least surprising story doesn't mean the Buccaneers didn't have plenty of work to do before sending it in. Winston appears to have been painstakingly trained to take the helm of an NFL franchise without missing a beat, and as a new set of fans grapples with rooting for a player whose on-field heroics at Florida State were inseparable from the headlines that followed him away from the stadium, anything short of glowing reviews as the former Heisman winner learns the playbook, charms the media and galvanizes the roster this summer would be a shock.
I'm less concerned with how Winston will deal with failure and more concerned with how often the Bucs' offensive line will be able to keep him upright. Even if second-round picks Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet do enough this summer to crack Tampa Bay's starting offensive line, a unit that allowed 13 more sacks than the next-worst O-line in 2014 will be taking on two unproven rookies and expecting marked improvement. Still, not many first-year quarterbacks get to start their careers with perimeter threats like Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson already in the fold.