Will there be football in 2020? Should we be doing power rankings without knowing the answer? These are very real questions. Of course, with the NFL having plowed through free agency, and barreling ahead toward the NFL draft, teams are acquiring players and shaping rosters as if there will be a season this year. So today, we are sharing our post-free agency, pre-draft, mid-quarantine power ranking. If nothing else, it’s fodder for discussion as you scroll through Amazon wondering when, if ever, Clorox wipes will come back in stock.
No moves—or lack thereof—matter more than the defending Super Bowl champions being led by the best QB in the NFL. The Chiefs’ offseason priorities include working toward an extension for Patrick Mahomes and also trying to keep long-term their best player on defense, franchise-tagged DL Chris Jones. A restructure of Sammy Watkins’s contract last week freed up the team’s impossibly tight cap space. The Chiefs still have some holes to fill, namely cornerback, but Andy Reid is in his basement office, likely drawing up some wild pass concepts with which his generational QB will try to defend their championship (whenever it is that play resumes).
The Ravens are among the sharpest roster-builders in the NFL, and that’s continued this offseason with the team landing Calais Campbell for a fifth-round pick and reaping another second-round draft pick by sending spare tight end Hayden Hurst to the Falcons. (Michael Brockers would have been another key add up front on defense, before the deal fell through due to an issue with his physical.) Last season ended with the top-seeded Ravens losing at home in the divisional round to Derrick Henry and the Titans, so continuing to fortify their front seven could be a priority in the draft.
The Belichick-Brady breakup leaves Sean Payton and Drew Brees (est. 2006) as the NFL’s longest-tenured coach-QB relationship. The 41-year QB put off retirement for perhaps one final time, signing a two-year contract with the Saints in March. This year, when the league will have to adjust to some form of virtual offseason program, that well-worn partnership will be even more important.
The Niners are among the teams that resisted pursuing Tom Brady, sticking instead with Brady’s once-presumed successor in New England, Jimmy Garoppolo. The Super Bowl collapse fed much speculation about the team’s confidence in Garoppolo, though this was a show of faith, for now. Trading away DeForest Buckner was a big loss for the defense and the locker room, but it gives the Niners a second first-round pick. They’ll now pick at No. 13 and 31, but don’t have another pick until the fifth round.
The first year of the Aaron Rodgers-Matt LaFleur partnership exceeded some expectations (certainly mine) until the lopsided loss to the 49ers in the NFC championship game. As our Conor Orr wrote that night, falling short of a Super Bowl is harder to swallow for Rodgers at age 36. Targeting another weapon for Rodgers in the draft is high on their list of needs, and with a deep class of receivers, there should be plenty options still available at the end of the first round.
Mirroring what we said above about longtime coach-QB partnerships being even more important amid the pandemic, there’s a lot of reason to be confident in Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson in 2020. They also still have a shot of re-signing Jadeveon Clowney, who remains a free agent, potentially at a bargain price.
Yet another team that stuck with the players who, in the case of the Titans, led them to the AFC title game—Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry—instead of being lured into the Brady chase. Henry, who is franchise-tagged, is coming off the pounding of a 303-carry season, and in free agency he also lost one of his blockers up front, right tackle Jack Conklin. Was 2019 lightning in a bottle, or can Mike Vrabel build on last year’s success in his third season leading the team?
It’s clear that we are weighting consistency in these mid-pandemic rankings, and the Eagles are the only team in the NFC East that does not have a new head coach. They lost veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins, but GM Howie Roseman traded for CB Darius Slay to fill the Eagles’ gaping need at cornerback and also signed DT Javon Hargrave (Conor Orr’s favorite move of free agency, if you are a Weak-Side Podcast listener!). The other gaping need for the Eagles that they must look to meet in the draft is at the receiver position, where QB Carson Wentz is desperately in need of a speedy playmaker, as evidenced by the disintegration of the Eagles’ vertical passing attack last season after DeSean Jackson was lost to injury.
I’m not ready to send the Patriots plunging just yet. In fact, I still have them as the highest-ranked AFC East team, and higher than Brady’s Bucs. While we have yet to see how Belichick’s post-Brady plan will manifest, I’d like to give that a chance before handing over the division to a different team for just the third time this millennium.
10. Buffalo Bills
The Bills have been trying to get a top receiver since they (very fortunately, in retrospect) missed on Antonio Brown last year. The trade for Stefon Diggs will help Josh Allen—though they paid a very steep price for a receiver who made no secret of the fact that he wanted out of Minnesota—and the Bills also made moves to beef up their defensive line and secondary. But the success of the Bills is contingent on whether or not Allen can take the next step, which is no certain thing.
11. Dallas Cowboys
Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Amari Cooper are all still Cowboys, albeit at a steep price. Travis Frederick was not a member of the present-day Cowboy triplets, but the retirement of the All-Pro center will certainly affect the triplets’ ability to do their jobs. The resources spent on offense meant key losses on defense like cornerback Byron Jones and defensive end Robert Quinn.
Despite the pandemic, there was extensive curbside coverage from Tom Brady’s new Tampa mansion, so we can confirm that TB is in TB (I hope this is not a trademark violation). Now what? Any QB who does not turn the ball over 30 times will immediately result in more wins for the Buccaneers, and there is certainly reason to be excited about the potential of Brady starting over with Bruce Arians. Of course, this is also the worst possible time to be starting anew, because unlike during the lockout, QBs and receivers can’t even work out together away from the facility (though some have been doing so, in violation of public health codes).
With the newly approved expansion of the playoff field, the Steelers would have been playing in January last season even without Ben Roethlisberger, a testament to the kind of coach Mike Tomlin is. GM Kevin Colbert has said he believes they could have a better Roethlisberger after his elbow surgery, though that is a high bar, particularly as the other members of the 2004 QB class have either retired (Eli Manning) or moved to other teams (Philip Rivers).
They extended Kirk Cousins, but the identity of the Vikings under Mike Zimmer has been their defense, and there were extensive losses on that side of the ball this offseason. The Vikings’ top three corners are now gone, as well as Everson Griffen and Stephen Weatherly on the defensive line.
I’m still a bit mystified that, as former MMQB boss Peter King reported in his FMIA column last month, “the Brady camp had interest in Indianapolis,” but the Colts preferred Philip Rivers on a one-year deal. The Colts must be banking on Rivers holding up behind better protection than he had with the Chargers last year, but Rivers’s play last year does give pause about if this was the right route for Indy to go post-Andrew Luck’s retirement.
16. Houston Texans
The 2019 season ended in another playoff disappointment for the Texans, but nearly as disappointing was the trade of DeAndre Hopkins to the Cardinals for a shockingly low return, especially when compared to what the Vikings netted for Diggs. Deshaun Watson tweeted some eyebrow-raising Drake lyrics referencing “iconic duos rip and split at the seams,” and if he is indeed frustrated, who could blame him? Both Watson and the owner of the Texans, Cal McNair, should be scrutinizing the absolute power given to head coach Bill O’Brien.
17. Los Angeles Rams
They still have Sean McVay, Jared Goff and Aaron Donald. But beyond that, the Rams look wildly different from the team that lost to the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII just a little more than a year ago. Todd Gurley reset the running back market, then was cut. Wade Phillips is looking for work. They’ve very quickly gone from trying to seize their Super Bowl window, to navigating something of a rebuild. The cost of that all-in approach is that they don’t have any picks in the top 50 of this year’s draft.
18. Atlanta Falcons
Rarely do you see a team rally behind a coach to save his job, and it work, but that’s exactly what happened last season, when the Falcons surged back from a 1-7 start to finish 7-9. Albert Breer wrote last week how Dan Quinn’s energy and positivity are an asset during this surreal time (see: His rebranding of “social distancing” to “physically distanced but socially connected”). As for their offseason roster moves, a lot depends on the health of Todd Gurley’s knee, but they did well to replace Vic Beasley and Austin Hooper with Dante Fowler Jr., and Hayden Hurst.
The Chargers didn’t have a lot to lose by joining the pursuit of Tom Brady, and I actually think there might be some relief that it didn’t work out. Anthony Lynn has made it clear that he trusts Tyrod Taylor and believes he can win them games, making him an ideal bridge QB. If they draft a QB at the top of the first round, there won’t be pressure for him to play right away. I also like the other moves the Chargers made, bolstering the offensive line with Bryan Bulaga and Trai Turner, and completing a formidable secondary with the addition of Chris Harris Jr.
Is it just me or are you somewhat excited to watch the Cardinals this year? For Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray’s second season, GM Steve Keim gifted them DeAndre Hopkins in a trade we still can’t believe really happened. The NFC West is already gnarly, but the Cardinals just might be a factor this year.
I would like to praise the Raiders’ restraint in not pursuing Tom Brady, instead sticking with Derek Carr and upgrading their back-up position with Marcus Mariota. The Raiders added multiple starters on defense in free agency (LBs Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski, DT Malik Collins and SS Jeff Heath), though their deal with Eli Apple falling apart still leaves a need at corner. The most obvious outstanding hole is the same one they’ve had since the Antonio Brown debacle: A true No. 1 receiver to pair with Tyrell Williams and Hunter Renfrow.
22. Cleveland Browns
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: The Browns had a big offseason. Yes, and…? They addressed their most vital need by signing RT Jack Conklin, and they overpaid for Austin Hooper, but clearly Kevin Stefanski sees him as an important cog to running his offense. This is a determinative year for former No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield, who won’t have the benefit of a full offseason to get to know his fourth head coach and fourth OC in his three-year NFL career. The offensive line was the biggest on-field reason for the Browns’ stumbles last year, and picking 10th, they’ll also have the chance to add one of the top offensive tackles in this year’s draft class. But, as always with the Browns, we’ll believe they are turning the corner when we see it.
23. Chicago Bears
Finally, the Bears said it: There’s an open competition at QB! After winning the division in 2018, the Bears and Mitchell Trubisky took a major step back last season. Chicago’s trade for former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles was my favorite offseason move. Either Foles wins the job, or Trubisky rises to the occasion. Both are a step forward for the Bears.
24. New York Jets
The Jets devoted free agency to their most glaring need, the offensive line, adding tackle George Fant, guard Greg Van Roten and center Connor McGovern. And they might not be done: With the No. 11 pick, the Jets could conceivably look to add one of the draft’s top tackles, too. The position was woefully neglected under former GM Mike Maccagnan, and an upgrade was essential before Sam Darnold’s third season.
25. Denver Broncos
John Elway has projected notable confidence in QB Drew Lock, who finished the 2019 season by winning four out of his five starts. While that certainly doesn’t mean the Broncos have finally found their replacement for Peyton Manning, as some were quick to declare, at least the QB position has not been the Broncos’ consuming offseason conundrum. The addition of center Graham Glasgow in free agency should help Lock, but the Broncos, like many other teams, are still looking for more offensive weapons.
26. Miami Dolphins
Now is the time for the Dolphins. All of the books-resetting and draft pick-hoarding set up for this offseason. They were very active in free agency, landing big names like cornerback Byron Jones and linebacker Kyle Van Noy, but the real purpose of last year’s roster teardown was to get their franchise QB. Is it Tua? Herbert? Could they pull a real stunner and budge the Bengals out of the No. 1 spot to take Joe Burrow? It’s not an overstatement to say that the next decade for the franchise will be shaped by this decision.
27. New York Giants
This is a tough year to start as a new head coach, particularly for Joe Judge. The franchise’s two-time Super Bowl MVP just retired, and the Giants are starting a new era with Daniel Jones at the helm. This is also a make-or-break draft for Dave Gettleman, who has overseen 5-11 and 4-12 seasons since his return to the Giants.
28. Detroit Lions
In Martha Firestone Ford’s announcement to season-ticket holders in December that the team was retaining GM Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia, she said she expects the team to be a playoff contender in 2020. Their plan to improve seems to be adding more ex-Patriots to the roster and banking on a boost from the return of Matthew Stafford. There were already plenty of reasons for Patricia to be on the hot seat, but Darius Slay’s criticism of his former head coach on the way out the door only added fuel to that flame.
29. Cincinnati Bengals
Joe Burrow made clear at his combine press conference that if the Bengals drafted him No. 1 overall, he would like to have A.J. Green on the roster. Well, the Bengals tagged Green. They also spent, uncharacteristically, in free agency, landing DT D.J. Reader and CB Trae Waynes, among other starters.
Matt Rhule’s seven-year contract allows for plenty of time for a rebuild, and there has certainly been a changing of the guard, as the team has lost franchise cornerstones Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly and Greg Olsen within the last three months.
Ron Rivera is facing the awkward situation of starting over in Washington with a QB, Dwayne Haskins, he did not pick. Rivera said one of the reasons he traded for Kyle Allen, who started in place of an injured Cam Newton in Carolina last year, is that Allen would be ready to go in the case of a shortened offseason. But he also sees Allen as competition for Haskins, which indicates the head coach may not be entirely sold on last year’s first-rounder. There’s a lot of work to be done in Washington, including resolving the messy Trent Williams stand-off.
It’s hard to believe the Jaguars were in the AFC championship game just two years ago. Trading DE Calais Campbell, CB A.J. Bouye and QB Nick Foles completed the restart, but head coach Doug Marrone and GM David Caldwell remain in place, for now.
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