Ranking the best and worst NFL offseasons of 2022

Ranking the best and worst NFL offseasons of 2022 post thumbnail image

Over the next two weeks, I’m going to rank the NFL’s 32 offseasons. Let’s start with the worst 16 offseasons and rank them from 32 to 17. I’ll finish up with the top 16 next Wednesday.

For the purposes of considering these offseasons, I’m evaluating the personnel decisions each team made relative to its situation the day after the Super Bowl. As an example, while the Colts probably regret trading multiple draft picks for Carson Wentz last year, I’m evaluating only their decisions from February on (which now include a Wentz trade to Washington).

I’ll mostly focus on player acquisitions and won’t count player or coach retirements against the team in question. (I might mention them, though.) The same is true for suspensions, so I won’t fault the Cardinals for what happened with DeAndre Hopkins, but I will critically think about their reaction to that news. I’ll also try to use detailed contract information where I can to get more accurate insight into the real commitments organizations have made to their players.

Let’s start with the bottom of the league, where one of the most successful franchises of the past decade underwent a reboot I didn’t enjoy:

What went right: The Seahawks were able to retain underrated safety Quandre Diggs, who suffered a fractured fibula and broken ankle during the final game of the 2021 season. Diggs’ three-year, $39 million deal is really a one-year, $13.5 million pact, so the Seahawks got to keep a talented player and maintain leverage if the injury prevents the 29-year-old from returning to his prior form.

Seattle also stayed put in the first round and used their first-round pick on left tackle Charles Cross, addressing one of its biggest positions of need. Some teams were wary of taking a left tackle from Mike Leach’s offense after seeing Andre Dillard fail with the Eagles, but that logic has always been overly simplistic. I can remember teams passing on Aaron Rodgers in the 2005 draft over concerns that Jeff Tedford quarterbacks such as Kyle Boller and Joey Harrington hadn’t lived up to expectations, and that one hasn’t exactly held up years later. Cross might fail, but it won’t be because he played in an Air Raid offense.

What went wrong: You’ve probably heard about the Russell Wilson trade by now. One week after Pete Carroll publicly said that the Seahawks had “no intention” of trading Wilson, the Seahawks sent their franchise quarterback to the Broncos for Drew Lock, Shelby Harris, Noah Fant and five draft picks, including two first-rounders. I wrote at length about this deal at the time, and I don’t like it for Seattle.

The Seahawks simply didn’t get enough for a superstar in the prime of his career, and while I held out some hope that they would then go after a viable replacement under center, they’re about to head into 2022 with Lock and Geno Smith as their two quarterbacks. They went from having a true superstar under center to having two replacement-level veterans and no clear path toward their next franchise passer. That’s a disaster.

Beyond the Wilson deal, the Seahawks further committed toward their philosophy of a 1970s offense. Amid concerns about running back Chris Carson‘s future because of a neck injury, Seattle re-signed Rashaad Penny to a one-year, $5.8 million deal then used a second-round pick on Ken Walker III. As The Athletic’s Ben Baldwin pointed out, the Seahawks themselves should know how easy it is to find running backs with late-round picks, having traded one for Marshawn Lynch while using the 249th selection in 2017 to draft Carson. This team has too many needs elsewhere to continue investing meaningful cash and draft capital on tailbacks, even if those backs do end up succeeding.

Fant will replace the departed Gerald Everett in the lineup, but I was shocked to see Seattle sign fellow tight end Will Dissly to a three-year, $24 million deal. As it plays out, Dissly’s deal is more like a one-year pact for $10.8 million, but that’s TE1 money for a player who hasn’t topped 262 receiving yards in a single season as a pro. Dissly is a solid blocker, but the Seahawks need him to be a Rob Gronkowski-level blocker to justify that sort of contract.

What they could have done differently: Well, they could have kept Wilson and fired Carroll. If the relationship between quarterback and head coach had deteriorated to the point where one had to go, Seattle made the wrong choice. Carroll has been a very good NFL coach, but he is 70 years old. The defense he helped mold into the league’s best is gone, as the Seahawks fell to 21st in defensive DVOA a year ago. Carroll’s choices for coordinators haven’t worked out, and the unit has struggled to draft effectively for the better part of the past decade. It’s tough to imagine that we’ll look back in five years and feel like the Seahawks made the right choice between their head coach and quarterback.

What’s left to do: Extend DK Metcalf, who was the subject of trade rumors around the draft. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Seahawks did trade their star wideout, who is in the final year of his rookie deal, but I also would encourage general manager John Schneider to get a deal done. With wide receiver A.J. Brown signing a four-year, $100 million pact with the Eagles as part of his trade to Philadelphia, I would expect his former Ole Miss teammate to sign for a few million more.

What went right: This is a tough one. Atlanta re-signed star kicker Younghoe Koo to a five-year, $24.3 million deal. Running back Cordarrelle Patterson came back on what amounts to a one-year, $5 million contract, which is reasonable enough for a player who emerged in a valuable role for Arthur Smith’s offense in 2021. Casey Hayward Jr. is still a valuable cornerback, and committing one year and $6 million to the former Packers draftee gives Atlanta a legitimate tandem between Hayward and third-year superstar A.J. Terrell.

I’ll get to why I didn’t like what Atlanta attempted to do at quarterback this offseason, but after making a mess of its own doing, the backup plan was reasonable enough. Marcus Mariota was close to a league-average starter for most of his time with Tennessee, and landing him for just $6.8 million in 2022 gives the Falcons a viable floor at QB. Drafting Desmond Ridder in the third round was a reasonable-upside option; even if Ridder only ends up as a viable backup quarterback, the four-year, $5.4 million deal Ridder is expected to sign would still be a good use of a pick.

What went wrong: Well, let’s start with Atlanta’s pursuit of Deshaun Watson. In addition to whatever moral objections one can raise toward the teams that competed to trade for the Texans’ quarterback, the Falcons were probably the least-equipped team in the league to acquire Watson. A Watson trade never made an iota of sense for Atlanta.

The dire cap situation would have forced general manager Terry Fontenot to both trade Matt Ryan and release Grady Jarrett to work a Watson deal onto the books. Watson would have been left with little help on a Falcons team that desperately needs to hold onto its draft picks for years to come. It’s tempting to think of Watson as a player who can guarantee his team a certain number of wins, but the last time we saw Watson on the field, he had just completed a healthy season for a 4-12 Texans team. We would have seen more of that in Atlanta.

In the process, by pursuing Watson, the Falcons played themselves. They alienated Ryan, who was then granted a trade to the Colts for a third-round pick. In doing so, the Falcons were forced to eat more than $40 million in dead money for their longtime quarterback, an NFL record. After the ill-fated extension for Julio Jones and the disastrous free-agent signing of Dante Fowler Jr. are accounted for, the Falcons have more than $63 million in dead money on their cap this season.

Merely to sign their draft class, the Falcons had to then extend Jake Matthews and Jarrett. They are both good players, but Matthews now has the seventh-largest contract at offensive tackle by three-year value, while Jarrett ranks fourth by the same measure among defensive tackles. Jarrett is not the problem with the Atlanta defense, and sacks aren’t everything, but that’s a huge deal for a player who had one sack and 12 knockdowns in 17 games a season ago.

On top of that, the Falcons were unable to keep their own successes in free agency. Russell Gage left for the Buccaneers. Foyesade Oluokun joined the Jaguars on what was admittedly too big of a contract for the Falcons to match. The compensatory picks they received for losing both players were cancelled out by signing Hayward and Mariota. If they hadn’t signed those two players, veterans like Damien Williams, Auden Tate and Rashaan Evans also would have offset those compensatory selections.

The Falcons don’t have the cap space to make meaningful additions, but their roster is so bereft of talent that they’re stuck cycling through veterans with low-cost contracts to field a competent team. They can get out of this cycle next year, when cutting Deion Jones and Mariota would get the Falcons to more than $59 million in cap space, but unless the Falcons find lightning in a bottle with Ridder, this is not going to be a fun situation to watch.

Oh, and wideout Calvin Ridley was suspended for the entire 2022 campaign after placing several parlay bets on his phone last season. When he comes back, Ridley is expected to request a trade, which the Falcons will have to execute with little leverage. At least the Texans were able to take home three first-round picks for Watson. This is the worst situation in the league at the moment.

What they could have differently: The Falcons probably should have just torn everything up and started over. Trading Ryan earlier in the offseason would have extracted a more significant return, and cutting Jarrett would have cleared out future cap space. The Falcons have been tugging at their Band-Aid over the past year or so, but it needs to get ripped off.

What’s left to do: Work on a new deal for Chris Lindstrom, who has emerged as one of the league’s better right guards. The Falcons picked up Lindstrom’s $13.2 million fifth-year option for 2023, but getting an extension done now gives them the maximum runway possible on a new deal while scoring a rare piece of good news for the franchise. Lindstrom is not in the same tier as Colts star Quenton Nelson, who should reset the top of the guard market, but a four-year, $60 million deal should be in the ballpark for the 25-year-old lineman.

What went right: Not a ton. I’m more optimistic about Marquise Brown than most analysts, and I think his numbers could see a bump by moving from a slow, run-first offense to one that plays fast and throws at one of the higher rates in football. I’m not blaming the Cardinals for DeAndre Hopkins‘ suspension, and while I would have preferred just drafting a wide receiver, trading for Brown was a reasonable Plan B.

There were a couple of moves on the margins that I liked. Guard Will Hernandez probably isn’t going to live up to his status as the 34th pick in the 2018 draft (where he was taken immediately ahead of Nick Chubb, Darius Leonard and Braden Smith), but getting him on a one-year deal for just under $1.2 million was solid value. Dennis Gardeck had seven sacks in 2020, and while he couldn’t repeat the feat in 2021, re-signing the former undrafted free agent to a three-year, $10 million deal was reasonable enough.

The Cardinals also netted three compensatory picks in free agency, including a third-rounder for wideout Christian Kirk and a fifth-rounder for linebacker Chandler Jones. Those picks will help offset the first-rounder dealt for Brown, although the Cardinals won’t receive these picks until next year.

What went wrong: The Cardinals just aren’t very good at valuing players within the context of the league, and they get too attached to the recent past. Even if Brown does pan out, trading a first-round pick for the former Ravens wideout basically prices the Cardinals into extending their new receiver, meaning they’ll be investing more than $40 million between Hopkins and Brown. That’s before getting into the second-round picks they’ve used on Andy Isabella, Rondale Moore and tight end Trey McBride — and the new deal the Cards gave Zach Ertz to keep the longtime Eagles tight end around.

Signing Ertz to what is essentially a two-year, $21.6 million deal locks the Cardinals in for a player in his 30s who wasn’t getting much interest in the trade market for the Eagles at a similar price tag over the past year and a half. Ertz was superficially better after joining the Cardinals, but that was a product of moving to an offense that played faster and threw the ball more. He averaged 1.6 yards per route run and was targeted on 23.2% of his routes with the Cardinals, but those numbers were right in line with his marks with the Eagles, with whom he averaged 1.5 yards per route run and a 24% target share. It’s possible that the Cardinals move to more two-tight end sets with Ertz and McBride, but at some point, Arizona has to spend in other places.



Jeremy Fowler shares his thoughts on reports that Kyler Murray will not be participating in the Cardinals’ OTAs.

I’m happy personally to see running back James Conner get a significant deal, but outside of a spectacular one-handed catch or two, Conner was much better in fantasy football than the real thing in 2021. He averaged 3.7 yards per carry and gained 53 fewer yards than an average back would have on his carries by the NFL Next Gen Stats model. Conner also was seven first downs below expectations, and while he scored 15 rushing touchdowns, that was a product of getting the league’s second-most opportunities inside the 3-yard line, where Conner’s nine scores were exactly in line with what an average back would have produced. Conner will get just under $16 million over the next two years for a team with glaring needs elsewhere on its roster.

If it feels like I’m focusing on the fantasy positions, well, the Cardinals didn’t do much else. They let cornerback Robert Alford walk, which was reasonable, but their only replacement at a position that was already a mess was former Vikings first-rounder Jeff Gladney, who was out of the league in 2021 after facing domestic violence charges, on which he was later found not guilty. Arizona didn’t replace Jones, who left in free agency for the Raiders. For all the focus on the offense, the Cardinals have been better on defense than offense by DVOA in both 2020 and 2021. But it’s tough to see the defense holding serve in 2022.

Oh, and after all that, the Cardinals appear to have a rocky relationship with franchise quarterback Kyler Murray, who wants a contract extension. Murray has gone through the cycle of removing the team from his social media and releasing a public statement through his agent. He has the plausible leverage of going back to Major League Baseball, but given that his baseball contract was worth $4.7 million and an extension with the Cardinals would come in with about $100 million guaranteed, I’m not sure it’s really a meaningful decision.

What they could have done differently: They could have used a draft pick on a wide receiver instead of trading for Brown. This was a deep, talented class of wideouts, and I have to believe that there was at least one player on the board at No. 23 the Cardinals could have considered. Trading for Brown, even given a relatively modest contract over the next two seasons, leaves a cap-strapped Cardinals team in a vulnerable spot as they ponder a raise for Murray. With Hopkins suspended for six weeks, I also believe the Cardinals could have gotten by with a less expensive option and used that first-round pick on an edge rusher or a cornerback, both of which are huge holes on this roster.

What’s left to do: The organization has committed to building around Murray, so unless the relationship between player and club is just totally destroyed, Arizona probably needs to bite the bullet and get this deal done. Where the deal comes in is the tough part. Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen have signed expansively long contracts that make it virtually impossible to move on for years to come, but those players have also frankly been more impressive than Murray as pros.

Deshaun Watson just inked a five-year, $230 million deal that’s fully guaranteed, and while I don’t see that trend spreading to many other players around the league, young quarterbacks might ask for that on their first extensions. The best-case scenario for the Cardinals is probably something in the ballpark of four years and $170 million, which would put a team that already struggles with its cap into an all-in scenario.

What went right: The Saints stayed patient and brought back a couple of Louisiana legends. Tyrann Mathieu‘s deal with the Saints is really a two-year, $18 million pact, while Jarvis Landry‘s one-year contract comes in at a mere $3 million. Those contracts come in well below the expectations we saw when those guys hit the market, and for a Saints team that needs as many bargain deals as it can get, Mathieu and Landry could end up generating some significant value for the Saints in 2022.

Otherwise, the Saints mostly operated the way they usually operate. They cleared out cap space by restructuring virtually every significant deal in their portfolio then used the room to try to fill holes on their roster. Marcus Maye is coming off of a torn Achilles tendon, but after being franchise-tagged a year ago, the Saints might end up with a bargain on Maye’s deal, which will pay just under $15 million over the next two seasons.

With a hole at quarterback, the Saints also managed to bring back Jameis Winston on a reasonable deal. Winston nearly tripled his 2021 compensation by signing a deal that will net the former first overall pick $15.2 million in 2022. Winston posted a 64.4 QBR over the first seven games of 2021 before tearing the ACL in his left knee, so if he can keep that up over a full season, $15.2 million would still represent a relative bargain on the deal. The Saints also have the option for a second year on Winston at $12.8 million, which would give them leverage in negotiating a new deal if Winston further impresses.

What went wrong: It was one thing when the Saints were addicted to all-in tactics in the final days of Drew Brees‘ career, but they’re still doing it with Winston as their quarterback. The Saints paid a significant haul to the Eagles to pick up an additional first-rounder in 2022, with the perennially cap-strapped Saints without their first-round pick in 2023. They moved up again on draft day to select wide receiver Chris Olave. The Saints built their legendary 2017 draft class by adding extra picks in the first and third rounds; they’ve been trading away draft capital ever since.

The Saints have relied heavily on restructures to keep together their core, but the result is a reliance on players who are either exiting their prime or struggling to stay healthy. I’m sure the Saints would have loved to move on from wideout Michael Thomas, who has barely played over the past two seasons, but Thomas’ restructures made his deal unmovable. Instead, the Saints are stuck with players like Thomas and Andrus Peat, even as their deals look to be messes. If the allegations of assault against Alvin Kamara prove to be significant, the Saints would be left in an extremely difficult position.

Even with the restructures, the Saints lost offensive tackle Terron Armstead to the Dolphins and 25-year-old safety Marcus Williams to the Ravens. They found replacements by using a first-round pick on Trevor Penning and signing Mathieu away from the Chiefs, but those swaps are a net negative for the Saints. The organization would have received compensatory picks for Armstead and Williams, but those picks were cancelled out by the signings of Maye and, more curiously, Andy Dalton. Sean Payton’s retirement isn’t being counted against the Saints, but it obviously makes things more difficult for New Orleans.

What they could have done differently: The Saints traded into this draft and dealt up, but if anything, the Saints should have traded down. The organization needed a left tackle after their dalliance with Deshaun Watson put the team’s cap situation on hold and helped send Armstead to Miami, but guys like Duane Brown and Eric Fisher are still available in free agency. Olave and Penning need to be superstars to justify those trades, and as we saw with the Marcus Davenport deal, trading first-rounders to move up doesn’t guarantee stardom.

What’s next: With Kamara facing the possibility of a suspension in 2022, the Saints should prepare by adding a pass-catching back. Mark Ingram II and Tony Jones Jr. are on the roster as backups, but given the difference between their styles and that of Kamara, the Saints might want to add one of the veteran backs who inevitably get cut during training camp.

What went right: The new regime of coach Josh McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler certainly came out swinging. The Raiders made big splashes on both sides of the football. First, they stunned the league by sending first- and second-round picks to the Packers for Davante Adams, who promptly signed a five-year, $140 million extension. The deal is realistically a one-year contract for $23.5 million with a two-year, $44 million extension all but sure to follow, but with surplus value included, the Raiders made an enormous commitment to add one of the league’s best receivers.

Vegas followed on the defensive side of the ball, signing former Patriots and Cardinals edge rusher Chandler Jones. The four-time Pro Bowler will make $34.4 million over the next two years, teaming with emerging star Maxx Crosby, who signed a four-year, $94 million extension in March.

The organization also found an interesting solution in negotiations with Derek Carr, who was entering the final year of his deal. What was announced as a three-year, $121.5 million extension is really more of a tactic in cost control. The Raiders guaranteed Carr only $24.9 million, which was $5.1 million more than he was originally set to make in 2022. They also gave him a no-trade clause.

In return, they have the right to go year-to-year with the quarterback after 2022. If he’s on the roster next Feb. 15, he’ll be guaranteed $32.9 million for 2023 and $7.5 million of his 2024 salary. Carr would earn a total of $41.9 million in 2024 and $41.2 million in 2025, although the Raiders would have the ability to release him if they want to head in a different direction. It’s no bargain, but they get to maintain flexibility as the new regime evaluates its new quarterback. (If you’re wondering whether Ziegler and McDaniels, both former members of the Patriots organization, might be going after Jimmy Garoppolo as a free agent next offseason, well, you’re not the only one.)

What went wrong: I wrote at length about the Adams trade when it happened. He is a great player, but the combination of his aging curve, the Raiders’ needs elsewhere on the roster, the move away from Aaron Rodgers and the surplus value in trading two valuable picks to the Packers gives me pause. It’s difficult to imagine the guy who used to manage McDaniels and Ziegler making this same deal, and he’s pretty good at managing rosters.

I’m not sure I love the Jones deal, either. At 32, Jones is likely exiting the prime of his career. He had five sacks in the Week 1 win over the Titans, but he racked up only 5.5 sacks over the ensuing 17 weeks of the season, missing two games along the way. He’s better than Yannick Ngakoue, but I’m not sure the difference between the two was worth a new deal for Jones. The Raiders then dumped Ngakoue to the Colts for salary purposes, getting back only frustrating corner Rock Ya-Sin in return.

The Raiders didn’t do enough for me in addressing their secondary. Trayvon Mullen and Nate Hobbs will return at corner, but Ya-Sin was repeatedly benched in Indianapolis and Anthony Averett was a corner opposing quarterbacks loved to target in Baltimore. Las Vegas also didn’t do much to supplement the offensive line beyond using a third-round pick on Dylan Parham, so the new staff will need to coax more out of Alex Leatherwood and Brandon Parker in 2022.

What they could have done differently: I’m not sure the Raiders needed to add a significant wide receiver with Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller on the roster, but if McDaniels was really in love with the idea of adding a weapon, he could have packaged the Nos. 22 and 53 picks to move up and get one of the top wideouts in this draft class. I wonder whether that might have been enough to get to No. 11 or 12 and land Chris Olave or Jameson Williams.

Adams is likely to be a better player than either wideout over the next few seasons, but as we saw with Julio Jones, there’s no guarantee a superstar wideout will age well into his 30s. The cost savings would also have allowed the team to add one or two more impactful players elsewhere on its roster.

What’s next: It remains to be seen whether the Raiders will follow up the expensive commitment they made at receiver by signing Renfrow to an extension. He had a breakout 2021 season, turning into a go-to option for Carr on third down and inside the red zone. McDaniels has only to look toward his time in New England to see the value of an effective slot receiver, but with Adams on the books and Waller agitating for an extension, can the Raiders justify paying Renfrow more than $15 million per season, too?

What went right: The Lions continued to stay the course on their rebuild by retaining some of the players who impressed last season. Charles Harris, who led the team in sacks, came back on a two-year, $13 million deal. Tracy Walker, who moved from strong safety to free safety and looked more comfortable in the process, signed a three-year, $25 million pact. General manager Brad Holmes & Co. didn’t do anything dramatic or unrealistic in an attempt to speed up the organization’s process.

I also liked some of the moves they made outside the organization. Bringing in DJ Chark on a one-year, $10 million deal gives Jared Goff a valuable wideout on the outside to play alongside Amon-Ra St. Brown. Veterans Mike Hughes and DeShon Elliott offer valuable depth and are possible starters in the secondary. The Lions didn’t make a single egregious signing in free agency.

Then, the draft fell well for Detroit. The Jaguars landing on Travon Walker at No. 1 overall allowed Michigan star Aidan Hutchinson to fall to his hometown team at No. 2. I’m not sure trading up is a great idea for a rebuilding team — and most advanced value charts had Detroit’s Round 1 trade from No. 32 to No. 12 as a slight win for the Vikings — but it’s certainly fair to say the Lions paid less than most teams typically do to move up to grab Alabama wideout Jameson Williams.

Suddenly, with the combo of Chark, Brown, Williams, D’Andre Swift and T.J. Hockenson, the Lions have one of the league’s most exciting young sets of offensive talents. Admittedly, it might not be thrilling to think about them in an offense in which Dan Campbell is calling plays and Goff is throwing the football, but if the Lions do take a major swing at quarterback in 2023, they’ll already have most of their offensive building blocks in place.

What went wrong: I applaud Detroit’s patience and restraint, but are we sure the best thing to do after a 3-13-1 season is double down on only signing Lions? The only player they added who should be guaranteed of a starting job in Week 1 is Chark, and he’s a free agent after the season. It’s possible there just weren’t many free agents willing to head to a rebuilding team, but I’m surprised Detroit wasn’t a little more aggressive after the first week or two of free agency in trying to find bargains.

What they could have done differently: Williams is an exciting prospect, but in a draft full of wide receivers, the Lions could have stayed put at No. 32 and drafted one of the many wideouts in this class. Moving up in the first and third rounds is great, but the No. 34 selection is extremely valuable. It’s where the Jets landed Elijah Moore in 2021 and where the Colts found Michael Pittman in 2020.

What’s next: Hockenson is eligible for an extension, and while injuries kept the 24-year-old from building on his promising 2020 campaign, he has been good enough to justify a significant deal. Holmes comes from a Rams organization that was typically aggressive about signing its first-round picks after their third season, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw the Lions get a deal done with Hockenson this summer. After picking up his fifth-year option for 2023, they should be looking at a four-year, $60 million extension to get Hockenson locked up.

What went right: Washington swiftly addressed its needs on offense. After Ryan Fitzpatrick went down for the season in the 2021 opener, the Commanders targeted a more significant replacement and landed Carson Wentz in a deal with the Colts. They replaced the expensive guard duo of Brandon Scherff and Ereck Flowers by signing Andrew Norwell and Trai Turner, giving them two bruising run-blockers on the interior, albeit ones who are past their professional peak. They will add a third-round compensatory pick for losing Scherff to the Jaguars.

More importantly, given their propensity for trying to win the offseason under owner Daniel Snyder, the Commanders didn’t hand out any spectacularly expensive deals to free agents. Their largest average annual salary on a deal, Wentz’s trade aside, was $5 million. Their big splash last year was William Jackson, so coach Ron Rivera might understandably have been shy about making any more significant moves in free agency.

The Commanders also traded down in the first round, dropping down five spots to No. 16 while netting third- and fourth-round picks in the process. Those moves pay off more often than not; they landed Jahan Dotson as the fifth wideout off the board. Washington can now roll out three-wide sets with Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel and Dotson.



Mike Clay and Mathew Berry are uncertain of Jahan Dotsons fantasy value being that the Washington Commanders have a lot of other talents at wide receiver.

What went wrong: The trade for Wentz was widely panned, with the Commanders eating his entire salary and sending the equivalent of the 36th pick in a typical draft to the Colts for a player Indy was desperate to trade. Rivera basically said that he was willing to pay whatever it would take for the right quarterback, and while that made sense while they tried to trade for Russell Wilson, it’s difficult to see whom they were competing against for Wentz.

What they could have done differently: Wentz is better than Marcus Mariota, but after disappointing two different organizations that desperately wanted him to succeed, I wonder whether the Commanders would have been better off holding on to their picks and signing Mariota to start.

Waiting out the veteran market would have given them a chance of trading a smaller haul for Ryan or acquiring Baker Mayfield or Jimmy Garoppolo at a discount. They couldn’t have known how everything would go at the start of the offseason, but Rivera’s focus on locking in any sort of upgrade on Taylor Heinicke without being sensitive enough to the price was a negative.

What’s next: With McLaurin holding out of OTAs, the Commanders should be motivated to get a deal done with their star wideout. His numbers would look even better if he had a quarterback even as good as Wentz over the past three seasons, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if he enjoyed a career year in 2022. Paying McLaurin before that career year would be smart, even if the Commanders need to narrowly top A.J. Brown‘s four-year, $100 million deal with the Eagles.

What went right: The Texans finally moved on from Deshaun Watson, getting a significant return from the Browns for the quarterback. Picking up three first-round picks gives general manager Nick Caserio’s team the sort of draft capital it needs to rebuild a moribund roster. The deal won’t be quite as exciting if those picks fall in the 20s, but if anybody should know how acquiring Watson doesn’t guarantee you success, it’s … the Texans, who ended up sending the No. 4 overall pick to the Browns in 2018 after Watson tore his ACL as a rookie.

It’s fair to wonder what the long-term vision is for the franchise, but for the second offseason in a row, Caserio had a coherent plan toward filling out the roster. The Texans extended no fewer than 16 of their own players on one- or two-year deals, then added 18 more on similar contracts in free agency. I’m not sure this is building any sort of long-term culture — and filling out the roster with veterans didn’t keep them from going 4-13 a year ago — but there’s at least some semblance of a plan.

Blessed with significant draft capital for the first time, Caserio’s work was a mixed bag. Houston picked up a fourth-rounder and a swap of four spots in the fifth round by moving down from No. 13 to 15 in the draft, where it selected Kenyon Green. If the Texans are going to invest anywhere, the offensive line seems like a good place to start.

What went wrong: Caserio then gave away even more, though, by sending pick Nos. 108 and 124 to move up from No. 68 to 44 and draft receiver John Metchie. By the Chase Stuart chart, the Texans valued Metchie as if he were worth the 18th pick in a typical draft. I’m not sure I trust Houston’s confidence in its ability to outpick the rest of the league, which let Metchie fall into the second round.

Even within the context of the Texans adding veterans up and down the roster, I have to take issue with some of Caserio’s signings. Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison can still be productive players, but the former Bills defenders turn 34 and 35, respectively, during the season. Are you really going to benefit in the long term from having those guys as your primary pass-rushers? I could understand if their strategy was to unload veteran contracts wholesale at the trade deadline for picks, but the only players they shipped off during the season last year were Mark Ingram and Charles Omenihu.

If there’s any position in which a team can find value on the cheap, it’s at running back. Why are the Texans signing Marlon Mack and Rex Burkhead when the latter wasn’t even playing regular special-teams snaps for Houston a year ago? Give fourth-rounder Dameon Pierce a shot. Bring in undrafted free agents for a competition. Stumble onto a player such as James Robinson and enjoy a running back on a low-cost contract and homegrown talent for three years. There’s not much to lose here, but going with veterans like Mack and Burkhead offers virtually no long-term reward.

On top of that, the Texans bungled their coaching search for the second consecutive season. After ignominiously firing David Culley at the end of the season, they looked around at inexperienced former pros Hines Ward and Josh McCown. Eventually, they landed on defensive coordinator Lovie Smith, who followed a successful run with the Bears by going 8-24 with the Buccaneers and 17-39 in college at Illinois. One year after Culley felt like a lame-duck hire, Smith might have been promoted into the same hopeless role.

What they could have done differently: It’s understandable that the Texans want to see what they have in Davis Mills after the rookie quarterback posted a 102.4 passer rating across his final five starts in 2021, but I’m surprised Caserio & Co. didn’t add more behind the 23-year-old. The backups in Houston are Kyle Allen, Jeff Driskel and Kevin Hogan. If Mills doesn’t live up to that December run, the team will be stuck with replacement-level alternatives.

What’s next: If the 49ers decide they want to get out from under Jimmy Garoppolo‘s contract at any cost, would the Texans bite? Caserio was part of the Patriots brain trust that drafted Garoppolo in 2014, and the Texans are the only team in the AFC with an opening at quarterback. They can’t fit Garoppolo’s present deal on their cap, but they could give the 30-year-old a new contract with a reduced cap hit in 2022 as part of a trade.

What went right: Facing a difficult offseason, the Cowboys were able to bring back several key players. They re-signed Michael Gallup and retained Dalton Schultz on the franchise tag before making a nice low-cost addition in James Washington. They were able to restructure DeMarcus Lawrence‘s deal, although they had to guarantee their defensive end $30 million to do so. Jayron Kearse hit the market and came back on what amounts to a one-year, $5 million contract. Leighton Vander Esch returned for one year and $2 million.

I liked their economical move for Dante Fowler Jr., who signed a one-year deal for $3 million. They then used their first-round pick on offensive lineman Tyler Smith, a position and draft status that have typically delivered great results for the organization in previous years.

It’s clear the Cowboys wanted to sign Randy Gregory to a significant extension, but given his lengthy history of suspensions and modest track record of success, they might have lucked out by failing to finalize terms with him. Fowler was anonymous in two years with the Falcons, but I’d rather have his services at $3 million than Gregory’s at $28 million over the next two seasons.

What went wrong: It’s clear the Cowboys wanted to sign Gregory, and it’s never a good look when you announce a deal, only for the player to then head elsewhere. Reports have suggested they tried to add language into the deal after the fact, so it seems fair to blame them for the Gregory deal falling apart. Gregory looked like a superstar for stretches in 2021, so it’s not going to look great if he continues to keep that up in Denver.

Dallas’ cap gymnastics forced the team to part with Amari Cooper in a salary dump, trading him to the Browns for a fifth-round pick. My preference would have been to keep Cooper, whose numbers fell a year ago in part because the Cowboys simply had too many weapons on offense, but they didn’t have the leverage to extract meaningful value in exchange for the 27-year-old’s services. He’s not on the same level as Davante Adams or Tyreek Hill, but acquiring him didn’t cost close to as much as those two did in terms of draft capital, while his contract isn’t as expensive and has more flexibility.

What they could have done differently: Keeping Cooper probably meant that the Cowboys would have had to move on from Gallup and Schultz. Gallup is a year younger than Cooper, which helps, but I’m not sure he’s the same caliber of receiver, and Gallup is coming off a torn ACL. If the Cowboys could have kept Cooper and signed someone such as C.J. Uzomah for what it would cost to re-sign Gallup and Schultz to long-term deals, I might have preferred the former, although it would have caused them to miss out on the fifth-rounder they received for Cooper and one of the compensatory picks they’re set to garner in 2023.

What’s next: After franchising Schultz for $10.9 million, the Cowboys have until July to negotiate a long-term deal. Blake Jarwin was cut after undergoing hip surgery, so they don’t really have a viable alternative at the position. After an 808-yard, eight-touchdown season in 2021, a long-term deal for Schultz should look like the three-year, $37.5 million contract Hunter Henry signed with the Patriots.

What went right: The new brain trust of coach Matt Eberflus and general manager Ryan Poles took over a flawed team and committed to starting over. The Bears moved toward a clearer cap and a more flexible future by trading Khalil Mack and cutting Eddie Goldman, Nick Foles and Danny Trevathan. It wouldn’t be a surprise if they deal Robert Quinn at the trade deadline to a team in need of pass-rushing help. The short term isn’t exactly going to be exciting for fans, but Chicago should be able to start meaningfully retooling next season, when it could have close to $100 million in cap space.

What went wrong: Poles’ hands were tied by the cap situation and the fact that the Bears were down first- and fourth-round picks from last year’s Justin Fields trade. If there’s any place I would have wanted to see them spend money, though, it would have been on protecting their young quarterback. They made a pair of low-cost offensive line moves in signing Lucas Patrick from the Packers and Dakota Dozier from the Vikings, but Fields projects to play behind one of the worst units in football this season.

Instead, the Bears made small moves to sign players at other positions, including Al-Quadin Muhammad, Justin Jones and Byron Pringle, who was subsequently arrested and charged with reckless driving. I’m sure they wanted to add competent veterans on reasonable deals, but in doing so, they lost out on the third-round compensatory pick they would have received when Allen Robinson signed with the Rams.

Poles did attempt to make one big swing by signing Larry Ogunjobi to a three-year, $40.5 million deal, only for the former Browns and Bengals tackle to fail his physical. I’m not sure that would have been a great deal given how far the Bears are from contention, but they likely missed out on what would have been their Plan B while they thought they were signing Ogunjobi. Jones, signed from the Chargers on a two-year, $12 million deal, is more like Plan H or I.

What they could have done differently: Given Chicago’s modest hopes of competing in 2022, I would have rather the Bears locked down the draft pick and added veterans after the compensatory pick window closed. Pringle’s one-year, $4.3 million deal doesn’t look or feel great when Jarvis Landry and JuJu Smith-Schuster signed contracts for less money. (To be fair, they might not have signed for those same deals with Chicago.) The Bears also signed Nathan Peterman; they could have done things differently by not signing Nathan Peterman.

What’s next: Roquan Smith emerged as one of the league’s best middle linebackers in 2020, and at 25, he is young enough to still be a key player once the Bears come out of their rebuild. I’m not sure he will top the deals signed by Bobby Wagner and C.J. Mosley at their respective peaks, but a four-year extension should come in at around $72 million.

What went right: One offseason after going on an unprecedented spending spree, Bill Belichick and the Patriots had a quiet spring. They brought back right tackle Trent Brown on a two-year, $13 million deal, keeping a player who has been on a different level when playing with the Patriots versus his work with the 49ers and Raiders. Belichick made unsurprisingly reasonable moves to sign Jabrill Peppers and Terrance Mitchell, who should each see specialized roles in the Patriots’ secondary. The Pats will also recoup third- and sixth-round compensatory picks for losing J.C. Jackson and Ted Karras in free agency.

What went wrong: Belichick’s track record of developing cornerbacks is no secret, but the Patriots will be retooling at cornerback after trading Stephon Gilmore during the season and then losing Jackson to the Chargers. They will initially look to rely upon Mitchell and Malcolm Butler, who didn’t play in 2021, to take over meaningful roles at corner.

New England also rebuilt at linebacker, and the short-term results could be tough. It didn’t re-sign Dont’a Hightower or Jamie Collins and cut Kyle Van Noy. It traded marginalized edge rusher Chase Winovich, who was second in the league in pressures in 2020, to the Browns for Mack Wilson. It convinced legendary safety Devin McCourty to come back on a one-year, $9 million deal, but the defense might take a step backward in 2022.



Dan Orlovsky questions the New England Patriots’ offensive plan going into the season.

Pats fans were excited about their spending spree at receiver a year ago, but the team spent big to add average-or-just-better pieces, and that prevented it from going after more significant fish in 2022. The Patriots’ big move this offseason to help Mac Jones was acquiring DeVante Parker for a fifth-round pick; Parker’s physicality is a problem, but he has had one impactful season in seven seasons. The cap situation also led them to dump Shaq Mason on the Buccaneers for a fifth-round pick, costing Belichick his best interior lineman.

The Pats rebuilt up front by trading up in the first round for Cole Strange. Belichick deserves any benefit of the doubt when it comes to player evaluation, but it’s difficult to believe the Chattanooga lineman wouldn’t have been on the board in the second round. Speedy second-rounder Tyquan Thornton was also expected to be a Day 3 pick in most circles. The Patriots won’t worry if those guys pan out, but there’s a scenario in which they trade down, add another valuable pick, and still manage to land Strange and Thornton.

What they could have done differently: The Pats’ hands were tied by what they did last offseason, but I would have liked to see them find a way to keep Mason. Even if New England thinks Strange will emerge as a superstar, retaining Mason would have allowed the team to keep Mike Onwenu in a utility role, which is extremely important given how frequently Brown and fellow tackle Isaiah Wynn have been injured over the past few seasons.

What’s next: The Patriots will likely try to find a landing spot for former first-round pick N’Keal Harry, whose role in the offense is blocked off by the presence of Parker. Given Harry’s struggles, they won’t be looking at anything more than a late-round pick in return.

What went right: The Niners finally addressed their secondary with a major addition by inking Charvarius Ward to a significant deal in free agency. Ward’s contract will likely play out as a two-year, $27.4 million pact, although they could theoretically get out after one year and $18.9 million.

Ward was inconsistent during his time with the Chiefs, but according to NFL Next Gen Stats, he allowed quarterbacks to complete 44.8% of their passes as the nearest defender in coverage last season, which ranked seventh among all defensive backs who played at least 300 coverage snaps. He’ll be a major upgrade on Josh Norman, who led 49ers cornerbacks in snaps a year ago. Safety George Odum also joined the organization from Indianapolis on a three-year, $9.5 million deal to take over for playoff scapegoat Jaquiski Tartt, while oft-injured corner Jason Verrett returned on a one-year contract.

What went wrong: 2020 breakout star Deebo Samuel requested a trade, and while the 49ers turned down any offers they received for their wide receiver, it doesn’t appear that the issues between the organization and Samuel are getting resolved anytime soon. There have been all kinds of rumors about why the 26-year-old wideout doesn’t want to play for the 49ers, but absent concrete information, it’s fair to say that Samuel’s future with the team is uncertain. He’s an unrestricted free agent in 2023, so time is of the essence with this situation.

Without their first-round pick as a product of the Trey Lance deal, the 49ers continued to throw even more assets into the skill-position well. One year after drafting running back Trey Sermon in the third round and immediately losing all faith in him, they used another third-rounder on Tyrion Davis-Price. An additional third-rounder went toward wideout Danny Gray. Surrounding Lance with talent is one thing, but they have spent a staggering amount of cash and draft capital on running backs and receivers over the past few years.

Losing starting guard Laken Tomlinson to the Jets will hurt the Niners, who helped develop the former Lions first-rounder to an above-average starter. Second-rounder (2021) Aaron Banks will step in on the left side, but I would have preferred to bring back Tomlinson and use Banks to replace right guard Daniel Brunskill. And signing Nate Sudfeld, who was last seen sparking tanking accusations for the Eagles at the end of 2020, doesn’t seem like the best use of $2 million.

Sudfeld would be the primary backup if the 49ers move on from Jimmy Garoppolo, who underwent offseason shoulder surgery and wasn’t tradeable this spring. Garoppolo’s no-trade clause is expired, and his $24.2 million base salary is not guaranteed, so the Niners could move on if they want to clear out the cap and cash. But it also seems like there’s a realistic possibility of the organization keeping Garoppolo around for the final year of his deal.

The market for Garoppolo seemed like it might be robust after his Week 18 heroics and playoff run, but many of the options that were on the table for the former Patriots standout have moved on. At this point, the 49ers would need to eat a meaningful amount of Garoppolo’s contract to get a deal done, with the Panthers as the most (or only) realistic landing spot.

I would imagine the 49ers will get Garoppolo into camp and hope someone else’s starter gets hurt so they can try to get a first-round pick from a desperate team, just as the Eagles did for Sam Bradford in 2016, but that’s a long shot. I’m certainly not criticizing the team for Garoppolo’s injury, but it is left without any good options right now.

What they could have done differently: I was surprised the 49ers didn’t keep Arden Key after he had 6.5 sacks and 17 knockdowns in a breakout season. Key signed a one-year deal for $4 million with the Jaguars, so the money shouldn’t have been an obstacle for keeping him.

What’s left to do: Make Nick Bosa the highest-paid defensive player in his own family, if not the entire league. Joey Bosa signed a five-year, $135 million extension with the Chargers after his third season in the NFL, and I wouldn’t expect Nick’s deal to fall far from the tree. After a season with 15.5 sacks and 21 tackles for loss, Bosa’s recovery from his 2020 torn ACL isn’t in question. It would be a surprise if the 49ers were able to extend Bosa for something short of $30 million per season.

What went right: The Titans were finally able to keep one of their top draft picks after a breakout in his fourth season, as Harold Landry was convinced to stay with a five-year, $87.5 million deal. The contract structure means Landry will essentially be guaranteed $52.5 million over the next three years before the team can reevaluate things in 2025. Tennessee is spending a lot on the combination of Landry and Bud Dupree over the next couple of seasons, but they’ve both played like Pro Bowl-caliber edge rushers when healthy. Dupree, who battled injuries in 2021, needs to return to form.

Facing a cap crunch, the Titans got creative in rebuilding their receiving corps. First, they acknowledged a sunk cost and cut Julio Jones after a disappointing 2021 campaign. They followed up by trading a late-round pick for Rams standout Robert Woods before essentially trading A.J. Brown for what they hope to be a younger version of their former star in Treylon Burks. With Austin Hooper replacing Anthony Firkser, they have seen receivers who were targeted on more than 330 pass attempts walk out the door this offseason. They have a reasonable Plan B.

After a frustrating playoff performance from quarterback Ryan Tannehill, the Titans managed to add a potential solution without panicking or overpaying. There were rumors Malik Willis might go as high as the No. 6 overall pick, so general manager Jon Robinson landing the Liberty quarterback in Round 3 has to feel like a victory. Willis will get time to develop behind Tannehill, and he could serve in the short term as a red zone weapon for what was already one of the league’s best short-yardage offenses.

The Titans also played draft day well, as they moved up 32 spots in the third round and picked up an extra fifth-round pick for moving down from No. 26 to 35. The added draft capital made it easier to move up from No. 90 to 86 to grab Willis, although there’s also a chance they could have stayed put and drafted their possible quarterback of the future without giving up a pick.



Matthew Berry breaks down how high Treylon Burks’ upside is heading into the 2022 season.

What went wrong: I can see the logic in swapping Brown for Burks; the veteran has already undergone double knee surgery and hasn’t been an every-down player, but I had the same reaction Mike Vrabel did in Tennessee’s draft room when I heard about the deal. Brown is a superstar whose raw numbers have been muted by the Titans living in a slow, run-first offensive attack. Burks might be a great prospect, but any draft pick’s chances of turning into a player as talented as Brown aren’t high.

Brown suggested the Titans weren’t willing to guarantee him more than $16 million per season on a new deal; I’d like to hear Tennessee’s side of the negotiation, but when you consider that the Eagles will pay Brown $57.2 million over the next three seasons, the Titans should have been able to get this deal done.

What they could have done differently: Giving Brown an extension would have been nice. One alternative even with a Brown trade would have been to use the No. 18 pick on tackle Trevor Penning, which would have pushed 2021 second-rounder Dillon Radunz inside to guard. As it stands, with Rodger Saffold and David Quessenberry leaving this offseason, the Titans will sort between Radunz, Jamarco Jones, Aaron Brewer and rookie third-rounder Nicholas Petit-Frere to fill the two open spots in the starting lineup.

What’s next: Jeffery Simmons had a stellar season on the interior for Tennessee, racking up 8.5 sacks, 16 knockdowns and 12 tackles for loss. Tennessee already picked up Simmons’ fifth-year option, but the organization can’t afford to lose yet another young contributor at the end of his rookie deal. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Simmons’ next deal came in at four years and $80 million.

What went right: Frantically searching for a quarterback after Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement, the Steelers pieced together a plan without getting too desperate. First, they ignored the agent-driven hype about Mitchell Trubisky‘s market and signed the former Bears starter to a reasonable one-year deal with a base value of $5.3 million. They even got a second year for $8 million, which is about what Trubisky would have expected to see as a high-end backup option in 2023.

Then, facing rumors that as many as five quarterbacks would go in the first round of the draft, the Steelers stayed put and didn’t sacrifice picks to move up and get the player they wanted. In the end, every quarterback was still on the board at No. 20, so coach Mike Tomlin and his team got to take the player they wanted in local prospect Kenny Pickett. You could make a case they should have landed a better option, but if they liked Pickett and Trubisky, they got their 2022 quarterbacks on reasonable terms.

Pittsburgh also rebuilt its offensive line with additions on low-cost contracts. I didn’t love the re-signing of Chuks Okorafor on what amounts to a one-year, $10.5 million deal, but the Steelers imported a pair of new starters on the interior in James Daniels and Mason Cole. Swapping out Joe Schobert for Myles Jack was also an upgrade, although I’d prefer to see the league’s premier linebacker development factory over the past 30 years draft and develop players at the position. Terrell Edmunds hasn’t developed into a top-tier safety, but it was good value to bring back the former first-rounder on a one-year deal for just over $2 million.



Jeremy Fowler explains how the Steelers are playing no favorites among potential quarterbacks Mitch Trubisky, Kenny Pickett, and Mason Rudolph.

What went wrong: Given a difficult cap situation, the Steelers probably didn’t need to go after players such as Gunner Olszewski in free agency, even on low-cost deals. Cornerback, once the deepest position on this defense, has been thinned out enough by disappointments and cap-enforced departures that they needed to add Bills corner Levi Wallace on a two-year, $8 million deal.

What they could have done differently: Trubisky’s deal starts at one year and $6.3 million and maxes out at two years and $14.3 million before incentives. Marcus Mariota‘s deal with the Falcons came in at one year and $6.8 million and maxes out at two years and $18.8 million. Considering their contracts, I would rather have Mariota, whose floor is much higher than Trubisky’s.

What’s next: With the T.J. Watt deal in the books, it’s time for the Steelers to get busy with extensions for Diontae Johnson and Minkah Fitzpatrick, with Fitzpatrick up first. Entering his fifth-year option campaign, he should be able to top the safety market. That’s currently Jamal Adams‘ four-year, $70 million extension with the Seahawks.

What went right: After spending eight years in the left tackle wilderness, the Panthers can finally feel like they landed a long-term building block at one most of the NFL’s most important positions by drafting Ikem Ekwonu with the No. 6 overall pick. After Jordan Gross’ retirement following the 2013 season, Carolina has had eight different players serve as its primary left tackle. Ekwonu should put a stop to that journey and help the team’s various quarterbacks breathe easier for years to come.

General manager Scott Fitterer was also astute to get a contract done with receiver DJ Moore at the beginning of the offseason. The Panthers didn’t get a bargain — Moore inked a three-year pact for $61.8 million — but an average annual salary of just over $20.6 million per season looks a lot better considering what happened in April. Receivers Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill and A.J. Brown each pushed the top of the wide receiver market forward, and while some of that was non-guaranteed contact fluff, I would expect the big-name class of 2019 wideouts to all take home more money than what Moore received from the Panthers. Moore is better than most of those guys.

What went wrong: Fitterer and coach Matt Rhule attempted to land a franchise quarterback and struck out again, as Aaron Rodgers stayed put, Russell Wilson went to the Broncos and Deshaun Watson joined the Browns. Carolina has been patient in waiting out the Browns for Baker Mayfield and the 49ers for Jimmy Garoppolo, but it sent too much to the Patriots in the third round of the draft to move up and grab Matt Corral.

There’s obviously dramatic upside if Corral turns into a starting-caliber quarterback, but sending a fourth-rounder and a future third-rounder to the Patriots is an awful lot for a team that was already lacking draft capital after the Sam Darnold deal. By the Chase Stuart draft chart, if we assume that Carolina drafts eighth next year, the Panthers sent the equivalent of the 45th pick to the Patriots to draft Corral at 94. Belichick makes these trades with desperate teams more than anybody else in football, and he usually ends up looking right in the years to come.

I’m not sure I loved the move to pay cornerback Donte Jackson just over $24 million over the next two years, given that Jackson has struggled for consistency and health over his rookie contract. The Panthers instead let productive edge rusher Haason Reddick leave for the Eagles on a deal that will pay him $30 million over that same time span. The two players obviously play different positions, and the Panthers have one star on the edge in Brian Burns, but Reddick has just been the much better player since Arizona turned him into a full-time pass-rusher in 2020. The Panthers did add Matt Ioannidis after he was cut by the Commanders, so Rhule’s Temple quota is still full.

What they could have done differently: Re-signing Reddick would have been a plus. The Panthers were also in line to recoup fourth- and fifth-round compensatory picks for losing Reddick and Stephon Gilmore, but they offset those moves by signing Austin Corbett, Bradley Bozeman, Damien Wilson, Xavier Woods and D’Onta Foreman.

I understand wanting to upgrade the line, and Wilson might not get the snaps to qualify after the former Chiefs linebacker was arrested on assault charges, but the Panthers probably could have found a way to add linemen without costing themselves draft capital. Given how many picks they’ve traded away for players over the past couple of years, they need those mid-to-late-round picks more than most other teams.

What’s next: The Panthers and Seahawks are the two teams that could realistically trade for a veteran quarterback. Mayfield and Garoppolo are available, and while the 49ers might say otherwise publicly, I don’t think either of those teams wants to pay those players what they’re set to make in 2022. There’s a middle ground where those teams eat salary and trade Garoppolo or Mayfield to the Panthers for a late draft pick.

Carolina hasn’t panicked in its pursuit, but there should be a window where a deal benefits the player, the team trading away the player and the Panthers. When that window comes, the Panthers should strike. Getting Garoppolo for $8 million and a draft pick would be a great deal for Carolina, even if it did draft Corral.

What went right: New general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah generally made measured, logical moves in his first offseason at the helm. The Vikings brought back Patrick Peterson on a one-year, $4 million deal, signed Nick Vigil and Jordan Hicks to modest deals to shore up their linebacking corps and swapped out Michael Pierce for Harrison Phillips. Their most significant import in free agency was Za’Darius Smith, but his three-year, $42 million contract is really a one-year, $6.7 million pact.

If you’re willing to trust most of the more modern and advanced draft value charts, Adofo-Mensah did a better job of trading around during the draft than the Jimmy Johnson chart would suggest. (Given that Adofo-Mensah was once an analytics guy with the 49ers, my guess is he has studied draft value pretty closely.) The Vikings added three likely starters in safety Lewis Cine, cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. and guard Ed Ingram, although they traded a 2023 fourth-rounder to the Browns to move up for linebacker Akayleb Evans.

Does extending Kirk Cousins‘ tenure with the Vikings count as a positive? Given that Adofo-Mensah inherited a deal where Cousins had an untenable cap hit of $45.2 million for 2022, he handled the situation reasonably well. To reduce Cousins’ cap figure in 2021 and buy time in looking for a quarterback of the future, the team gave Cousins a one-year, $35 million extension and restored his no-trade clause.

As a quarterback who ranked somewhere between fourth (adjusted net yards per attempt) and 15th (Total QBR) by passing metrics a year ago, Cousins evokes a wide swath of opinions. I’m not sure it would be a great idea to sign him to this sort of deal if he were a free agent, but given the situation the Vikings were in at the start of the offseason, committing to one additional year was better than signing a more significant long-term deal.

What went wrong: By the end of the Rick Spielman regime, the Vikings seemed stuck in the middle of the NFL pack, where they were too good to land a premium draft pick, but not good enough to realistically compete for a title. Most new brain trusts come in and push their team in one direction or the other, but Adofo-Mensah and new coach Kevin O’Connell seem to be heading toward the same path in Year 1.

The Vikings moved on from veterans Pierce and Anthony Barr, but they also restructured stalwarts Harrison Smith and Adam Thielen to create short-term cap space. They can be a playoff team with reasonable luck and health in 2022, but it’s difficult to see them seriously challenging the Packers or the other top teams in the NFC. A more dramatic rebuild is coming, so this offseason might look like delaying the inevitable with a year or two of hindsight.

I’ll defend the trade with the Lions given what more empirical draft charts suggest about draft value, but it’s difficult to believe the Vikings couldn’t have negotiated more out of their divisional rivals. I’m also not particularly upset about making draft-day trades within the division, as the Vikings did with the Lions and Packers, but it’s not going to feel great if Christian Watson catches a game-winning touchdown pass in Minneapolis this season.

What they could have done differently: If the Vikings wanted to treat 2022 as Cousins’ final season with the team, they could have converted $20 million of his base salary into a signing bonus and added four voidable years to the deal. In doing so, they would have reduced his 2022 cap hit from $45.2 million to $29.2 million and left themselves with $16 million in dead money on their 2023 cap. I prefer how Minnesota handled the situation in reality, but if Cousins craters in 2022, the season after is going to be a massive lame-duck year for both him and the organization.

What’s next: Minnesota needs depth along its defensive line, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Vikings add a veteran piece in free agency or during training camp cuts. I wonder if they would reach out to Akiem Hicks or Eddie Goldman, both of whom played in a similar style of defense in Chicago to what the Vikings will run under Ed Donatell.

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