- With free agency and the draft in the rearview, here’s a quick look at how every team fared. Plus mailbag questions on Josh Allen’s social-media history, Cleveland’s unnecessary secrecy, the rookie wage scale and more
I didn’t do a good job on 32 teams Monday, so I thought I’d answer this question for all 32 this morning: In brief, what do you think of every team’s offseason? By division, here we go...
Buffalo. The entire goal of the offseason was to get the long-term quarterback, and the fact that the Bills worked for 13 months to stockpile enough picks to get in position to do that worked out well. It cost GM Brandon Beane two low second-round picks to move up five spots to get quarterback Josh Allen. We’ll see how that works, but the bonus was getting the uber-athletic Tremaine Edmunds in the first round. But the offensive line continues to be a big need group.
Miami. I loved getting the bargain safety/corner/nickel linebacker Minkah Fitzpatrick 11th overall. Tremendous value. Penn State tight end Mike Gesecki will give Ryan Tannehill a good weapon in the intermediate passing game. And good for Miami, getting Danny Amendola out of Super Bowlville to play the slot as the heir to productive Jarvis Landry.
New England. I get the weirdness of the Baker Mayfield story. I get why everyone loves it. But what does it matter, thinking maybe New England would have traded to number two overall to pick up Mayfield? First: For five weeks the Browns have known they were going to use the number one overall pick on him. Second: Would New England have really traded all four ones and twos this year, plus maybe something in 2019 to the Giants to pick up the second overall pick this year? I doubt it.
New York Jets. Some in the organization wanted Sam Darnold, some wanted Mayfield. I don’t know who will be better in the NFL, so it’s probably fine the way it worked out. Darnold is in the best position of any of the young quarterbacks, with the underrated Jeremy Bates his tutor and play-caller, and terrific mentor Josh McCown in place to show him the ropes. If Darnold doesn’t make it, he can’t blame his support system.
Baltimore. The story of the offseason: The leash on a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, Joe Flacco, has tightened considerably with the drafting of Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson with the final pick of the first round. Smart move by the Ravens, because Flacco is in Eli Manning’s league in recent years—one of the lowest-rated quarterbacks in the game over the last half-decade. Maybe it’s not all Flacco’s fault, but something has to be done about it. Jackson is that something. For better or worse, Hayden Hurst and Orlando Brown should be offensive starters by Halloween, at the latest.
Cincinnati. I’ve seen a lot of people fall in love with the Cincinnati draft, but I’m not buying it. The Bengals should have picked Lamar Jackson and put legit pressure on Andy Dalton to play better. Bengals fans, do you really have faith that Dalton is going to take the next step and propel the Bengals over the Steelers? Billy Price is a nice pick, but I cannot fathom how he was chosen over Jackson.
Cleveland. As I said in my stories about the Browns this week, if you hire John Dorsey, and you put faith in him to assemble a staff, and you ask them to pick your quarterback of the future, and he has been part of two teams with good-to-Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks, and they think Baker Mayfield is the clear choice, well, you’ve got to let it play out. And Denzel Ward is going to spend the next couple of years blanketing Antonio Brown and A.J. Green. If he fails, that defense will fail. No pressure or anything.
Pittsburgh. Mason Rudolph is an intriguing Roethlisberger heir, and there were plenty of mixed reviews on the Oklahoma State passer, but it’s good to let him sit for a couple of years and learn behind an oak tree of a quarterback. Not bad value for the 76th overall pick. Terrell Edmunds was an interesting first-round pick, an underachieving college safety in a unit the Steelers seem to be forever fixing. My biggest miss for the Steelers: Where was the heir to Ryan Shazier? Big hole there.
Houston. The Texans’ draft was last year—when they dealt a 2018 first-rounder for Deshaun Watson, and when they dealt a 2018 second to get rid of Brock Osweiler. The Texans got a Mike Mayock fave with their first pick, Stanford safety Justin Reid early in the third round. What an odd draft overall, picking three tight ends in eight picks.
Indianapolis. Everyone was stunned at Quenton Nelson over either a trade or Roquan Smith at six. I get it, though. Chris Ballard is bound and determined to protect Andrew Luck for the next five years, or more, and Nelson was the surest thing of any player in this draft. The most important pick, other than Nelson, could well have been guard Braden Smith in the second round, with one of those freebie picks from the Jets. Smith, from Auburn, should be one of two new starters on the line opening day.
Jacksonville. Isn’t it amazing what’s happened to the Jags? They’re drafting for luxury, not need. Taven Bryan should be an excellent disruptor in the middle of the defensive line, where the Jags were already very good. But the key to this draft could well be the receiver in round two, D.J. Chark, who walks into Jags camp as the fastest wideout (4.34 in the 40) on the team. He’s a vital piece, even more important than Bryan.
Tennessee. The Titans spent $81 million to pilfer two valuable Patriots—cornerback Malcolm Butler and running back Dion Lewis—and they are significantly more important than the players in the draft. Linebacker Rashaan Evans of Alabama, the first-rounder, is an impressive player from a great program, but some in the league are skeptical he can be the three-down linebacker Mike Vrabel and the Titans think he’ll be.
Denver. We may never know if John Elway would have taken Baker Mayfield with the fifth pick in the draft if the Oklahoma quarterback was there … but the benefit to Mayfield’s absence is the best two-man edge rush in football: Bradley Chubb and Von Miller. Elway, and Broncos Nation, are counting on the $36 million the team spent on two years of Case Keenum to be a wise investment.
Kansas City. Until he proves otherwise, Sammy Watkins will go down as a vastly overpaid ($16 million per) player. Think there’s a reason that, at 24, he’s on his third NFL team already? Pat Mahomes is a big part of the 2018 crop, because dealing the first-rounder last year brought Mahomes in trade—and allowed the Chiefs to import their best off-season acquisition, cornerback Kendall Fuller, in the Alex Smith trade from Washington.
Los Angeles Chargers. Best value pick in the first round: Derwin James, the safety from Florida State, with the 17th pick. If he’d been picked sixth overall, no one would have beefed. That’s how good he is. Center Mike Pouncey, the free agent from Miami, is vital to the Chargers’ offensive chances.
Oakland. Jordy Nelson plays at 33 this year, and the Packers basically gave him a red carpet out of town. The interesting thing about the Jon Gruden offensive additions? It’s an aging wideout in Nelson, a head-case wideout in Martavis Bryant and a couple of draft-pick tackles (Kolton Miller, Brandon Parker) who need seasoning. There’ll be a premium on coaching and development this summer at camp in Napa.
Dallas. This draft is about the playmaking ability of rangy linebacker Leighton Vander Esch of Boise State. Dallas hopes he can be the long-term defensive centerpiece they’ll miss when Sean Lee is gone. Much depends on the plans of tight end Jason Witten, because Dallas would be lacking at both wideout and tight end if Witten leaves for ESPN. Talk about pressure: The 137th pick in the draft, Stanford tight end Dalton Schultz, might have to produce early and often.
New York Giants. Three huge offensive pieces should make life tolerable for Eli Manning: left tackle Nate Solder, the highest-paid tackle in NFL history; angry and edgy guard Will Hernandez, the second-round pick who should start opening day and who generated the best quote of the draft weekend from Mike Mayock (“He just doesn’t like people.”); and, of course, the franchise back from Penn State, Saquon Barkley, who has been GM Dave Gettleman’s preferred picks for weeks.
Philadelphia. Two players are atop the Eagles’ offseason menu, and neither was a draft pick. Cornerback Sidney Jones was a second-rounder last year, recovering from an Achilles tear that never allowed him to be the real Sidney Jones all season. He and Ronald Darby should be the Eagles’ long-term hopes at corner. And Michael Bennett, in what may be his last NFL season, looks for one last hurrah on a really strong defensive front.
Washington. Kirk Cousins out, Alex Smith in. An even trade if you ask me. Da’Ron Payne will be the biggest draft pick in the middle of a defensive line that needed reinforcements. We’ll see if Jay Gruden can get the most out of risky running back Derrius Guice, who joins a backfield needing a jolt.
Chicago. Overall, the Bears had the best offseason of any team in football. GM Ryan Pace totally revamped the wideout corps, with vet Allen Robinson and rookie Anthony Miller the keys there. On defense, there’s a new-style monster of the midway, a rangy 235-pound sideline-to-sideline force, linebacker Roquan Smith. The Bears were fortunate to get him eighth overall, and he should be perfect in the middle of Vic Fangio’s defense.
Detroit. The hottest player down the stretch in the draft, Arkansas guard-center Frank Ragnow, might have been a Patriot today if the Lions didn’t steal him three picks ahead of New England at 20 in round one. He should be a three-position player (left guard, center, right guard), a luxury for new coach Matt Patricia. The Lions got a bunch of middle-class free-agents (LaGarrette Blount, Devon Kennard), typical of a Patriot alumni team, which this is.
Green Bay. Jimmy Graham and Muhammad Wilkerson in free agency, Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson in the draft. All four should play early and often for the Pack. My biggest question about the short-term future for the Packers: Will Aaron Rodgers’ state of mind—he seems not very happy with the Packers’ player moves these days—have much impact on the team’s performance this year?
Minnesota. Nice value for the Vikings with the 30th pick, cornerback Mike Hughes of Central Florida. Minnesota hasn’t steered clear of dangerous players recently, and all indications are that rehabbing 2017 draftee Dalvin Cook will be a huge player for the Vikes this year. The biggest offseason acquisition, of course, is Kirk Cousins, the highest-paid player in NFL history. He’ll have to play like it for the Vikings to make it deep into January.
Atlanta. Weird offseason. No essential pieces to add. And the Falcons, trumped for the defensive linemen they liked and trumped by Tennessee for Rashaan Evans, plucked a falling wideout, Calvin Ridley, with the first-round pick. Second-round pick Isaiah Oliver should be an early contributor at cornerback.
Carolina. How often does a team have the 24th pick and its choice of any wide receiver in the draft? Maryland’s D.J. Moore gave GM Marty Hurney that luxury—and the Panthers will be trying to buck history. Eleven of the 12 first-round receivers since 2015 have flopped, so the Panthers will be counting on Moore to buck the trend.
New Orleans. Gutsiest, riskiest, most profligate decision of the year: The Saints dealt next year’s first-round pick to move up to take an edge rusher from Texas-San Antonio, Marcus Davenport. He’s a solid but raw prospect, and the Saints are making a big gamble that he can team with Cam Jordan to give the Saints the consistent defensive pressure they want.
Tampa Bay. The offseason has been all about the defensive front: Jason Pierre-Paul in trade from the Giants, and Vinny Curry in free agency from the Eagles; they should be the bookend ends. And Vita Vea with the 12th pick in the first round to play next to Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy. How many defensive fronts will be better?
Arizona. I love this: In the last two months, the Cardinals have gone from zero quarterbacks under contract to having Sam Bradford, Josh Rosen and Mike Glennon as their 1-2-3 on the quarterback depth chart. In his last season (presumably), Larry Fitzgerald should be able to break in a second-round receiver, Christian Kirk, who grew up in Arizona rooting for Fitzgerald.
Los Angeles Rams. The Rams picked about 10 minutes ago. The last team to make a first pick in the draft took swing tackle Joseph Noteboom 89th overall. Of course, the Rams’ offseason was Brandin Cooks, Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. If they fail, the Rams fail.
San Francisco. The drafting of Mike McGlinchey ninth overall allowed the GM John Lynch to move Trent Brown (not a system fit for the Niners offense) to New England. The offseason centered around vet cornerback Richard Sherman leading the secondary, center Weston Richburg anchoring the offensive line, and Jerick McKinnon being the all-purpose back coach Kyle Shanahan craved.
Seattle. We’ll see if safety Earl Thomas, a trade target of Dallas through the draft, will be a Seahawk when training camp opens. Jimmy Graham left in free agency, which hurts; the low-cost replacement, Ed Dickson, will have big shoes to fill. One of the interesting rookies in the NFL will be Seattle first-round running back Rashaad Penny. All he did in college was average 7.5 yards per rush—over three years.
Now for your mail...
ALLEN’S TWEETS SHOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN A STORY
In reading your take on Josh Allen’s tweets, I was wondering if the media ever stops to consider just how dumb a story is before they run it. In this case, the most appropriate headline probably should have been: “Professional Journalist Searches 14-Year-Old’s Twitter Account.” In what walk of life would it ever be appropriate for an adult to comb through a child’s social media account and publish an article about it? When would an employer ever hire a person and, on day one of his employment, require him to address his coworkers regarding his comments as a 14-year-old? The answer to both questions is never. I’m incredibly disappointed that the Bills management didn’t act like adults and immediately tell any reporter asking about it to grow up. I’m more disappointed that the media felt the need to even research this.
Couldn’t disagree more. Let’s clarify a couple of things: The tweets in question happened when Allen was 15, 16 and 17. I couldn’t call that “child” age. Think of this: You’re an NFL general manager, in charge of finding a long-term quarterback, and you’re considering trading three draft choices to move up to take your quarterback of the future, and, as a late teenager, the prime candidate sent some racially insensitive tweets. You’re asking a locker room with the majority of African-American players to wipe out of their minds that the quarterback drafted to lead the team sent out these tweets when he was in high school. I certainly do not think it should eliminate Allen from consideration. But I certainly do think an investigation into them is warranted, and if GM Brandon Beane didn’t look into the story, I’d have significant questions about his vetting process for this player.
A FIX TO THE ROOKIE WAGE SCALE
I understand that you feel the cheap rookie deals give an extra incentive to tanking, and this is a problem for the football fan. Perhaps the alternative is to have rookie contracts significantly more incentive-laden than veteran contracts. A team doesn’t have to risk paying a bust like Aaron Curry, Jamarcus Russell or Jason Smith a $60 million rookie contract. But if a player like Russell Wilson outperforms his contract he can either be paid for incentives or break free of the contract in a player option. As long as he meets the performance incentives, the team has the option to pay up for his performance, but if they do not meet incentives, the player has the option to either keep the smaller rookie deal, or enter free agency. The player has some contract protection on the smaller back end, but they also get rewarded for performance. Just a common sense idea without too much thought, but maybe there’s some merit to it.
A good idea, Jon. Potentially very good. I think the biggest problem with it is, from the NFL’s point of view, the cost uncertainty that would come from it. They would have a hard time budgeting for the long-term if a drafted player didn’t have the cost certainty that he does now. But in fairness to the player, it is a good idea.
WHAT’S THE POINT OF CLEVELAND’S SECRECY?
I’m wondering what the point of Cleveland’s secret was. If they had the first pick in the draft, what difference does it make that everyone knew? And because they kept it a secret, they never really knew what someone might offer for the number one pick, and didn’t give teams the reality of knowing that Mayfield would not be available at number four, and thus cobbling together an offer for that.
—Brian, Washington D.C.
Interesting point. I agree that, in theory, there’s no good reason to be so secretive about who you’re picking first overall. But in practical terms, a month ago, how did John Dorsey know the preferences of the Giants (at two) and the Jets (at three)? What if he finds out reliably that the Giants want Sam Darnold and would be willing to ensure getting him by trading a second-round pick to Cleveland to move to number one? In that case, it would be a big advantage for the team picking number one to not show its hand before the draft. Now, it turned out the Giants and Jets never seriously tried to move up. But how did Dorsey know that in March, when he was pretty sure he was taking Baker Mayfield?
DORSEY’S SILENCE IS TELLING
It seems like a bad sign that the Cleveland GM doesn’t trust his core staff enough to tell them who his top quarterback is, and when he finally does the news is immediately leaked. Same old Browns.
I’m amazed at the reaction from your emails and my text inbox at all of the people who think draft secrecy is silly and unnecessary. Do you think Dorsey is alone in keeping his first-round pick from his staff? He’s not. Mike Shanahan did it with Jay Cutler, telling no one in the building until an hour or so before the draft. GM Dave Caldwell of the Jags told no one in the building until just before the draft that he was taking Blake Bortles in 2014. Last year, when I was in the 49ers draft room, they were talking trade with the Bears; San Francisco was picking second and Chicago third. The Bears wouldn’t tell the Niners who their target was; the Niners wouldn’t tell the Bears what they were thinking either. Do you think Bill Belichick shares his internal draft plans with his staff? I can tell you (from a former Patriots scout) that their jaws would drop sometimes when they heard who Belichick was picking.
Now, about the “same old Browns” because the possibility of Mayfield leaked … maybe. But Adam Schefter didn’t report Mayfield was the pick. He reported he was in contention to be the pick two days before the draft, and then on draft day that some coaches in the league would be surprised if he was not the pick. I’d hardly call that the news being immediately leaked.
IS THERE ANOTHER REASON FOR WITTEN’S RETIREMENT?
I find it very odd that Jason Witten would decide to retire from the Cowboys at this time and place during the offseason. He was a great Cowboys player throughout his career, and he has supported the team over the years even during the hard times. I find it very odd that he would choose to retire now, with the Cowboys’ draft board all put together and during the week of the draft with a limited chance to find a replacement. I realize the Cowboys have a few tight ends on their roster, but this move just seems odd for a stand-up guy like Witten to leave the Cowboys at this point in time. I love your writing and your columns. They are required reading every week as far as I am concerned. Keep up the great work!
—Sean, Clovis, N.M.
So nice of you, Sean. Thank you. If Witten retires, I can tell you he’s likely not doing it an an odd time like this (and an inopportune time for the Cowboys) by his own choice. I’m pretty sure ESPN just recently offered him the deal and the timing of it was not in his hands.
IS NEWSOME A HALL OF FAME GENERAL MANAGER?
Great story on Ozzie Newsome today. I was wondering what you think about his chances to make the Hall of Fame as an executive.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame does not enshrine people twice. Newsome is not eligible to go into the Hall again, after being elected as a tight end.
SICK AND TIRED OF THE BROWNS
What a shock, yet another story about the Browns at The MMQB. Cleveland, a fifth-rate city and a team no one who doesn’t live within 100 miles cares about, gets its 35th story in a national publication. What gives? I don’t get it. Could we please have a moratorium on Browns stories until they have a .500 record?
A team with two of the top four picks in a quarterback-rich draft when the major need is quarterback—and you think we should not be writing about it? Glad you’re not my editor.
SHAD KHAN’S PLANS
Jaguars owner Shad Khan’s comments [about buying Wembley Stadium in London for the long-term future of the Jaguars in Jacksonville] make perfect sense. But perhaps more so for him than for Jacksonville, if one considers the following. The Jaguars are again a factor in both the conference and league championships. That results in a commensurate increase in both the fans’ and the business community’s (financial) support and interest. NFL franchises are valuable. The upcoming sale of the Carolina Panthers should underscore that fact. No community, especially one that has no other professional or college sports identity, wants to lose an NFL franchise ... Khan would be in position to pull a Modell Browns-Ravens-Browns move. Once the NFL is ready to place a franchise in London, he would immediately request to relocate his team under a new name to his own stadium. Given Khan’s years of commitment to playing in London, it is difficult to imagine that the NFL would fail to approve his request. That relocation would then create the opportunity for new ownership groups to bid to fill the vacancy in Jacksonville, which would retain the Jaguars name. Khan never stated that the “Jaguars” would move to London, nor did he state that his team would stay in Jacksonville.
—George M., The Villages, Fla.
It still doesn’t pass the sniff test that Khan buying Wembley Stadium strengthens the Jaguars’ future in Jacksonville. I stand by that.
KHAN HAS BEEN A GOOD OWNER FOR JACKSONVILLE
For those who believe only actions and not words, Khan has twice invested in stadium improvements and built an indoor practice facility and an amphitheater on the stadium grounds. He has proposed a $2.5 billion plan to develop the area around the stadium for business, residential and recreational use. In each of these projects, Khan has or will share the expense with the City of Jacksonville. Intelligent businessmen do not invest hundreds of millions of dollars in a location they plan to abandon. We hear way too much about Khan’s business interests in London, and way too little about his investments in Jacksonville.
—Roger B., Houston
I hope you’re right.
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