It’s way too early to try to pinpoint how each player who landed somewhere new this offseason will impact his team. But we’re going to do it anyway.
Last year, not many people would have thought drafting Dak Prescott was the Dallas Cowboys’ best offseason move. But then the fourth-round pick was pressed into duty when Tony Romo went down with an injury during the preseason. Prescott never gave Romo the job back and went on to beat out teammate Ezekiel Elliott for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
We might not have predicted Prescott’s meteoric rise, but we’ll give it a shot this offseason and try to single out the one move each team made — whether during free agency or the draft — that we expect to make them better this season. Who knows? Maybe we’ve got this year’s Dak Prescott listed.
Arizona Cardinals: Locking down Chandler Jones
The Cardinals lost several defensive starters in free agency, but they held on to one key player: pass rusher Chandler Jones. Not only did they keep Jones in the fold, but they did it with a five-year deal.
Atlanta Falcons: Signing Dontari Poe in free agency
The Falcons were smart to lock up right tackle Ryan Schraeder and cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford with extensions. But Atlanta’s biggest decision — no pun intended — was beefing up the defensive line with Dontari Poe.
Baltimore Ravens: Adding Tony Jefferson to secondary
The Ravens pass defense was a priority this offseason, and they addressed it with a few additions. Of those, it’s safety Tony Jefferson who stands out. At 25, he has plenty of years ahead of him to make plays for Baltimore.
Buffalo Bills: Restructuring Tyrod Taylor’s contract
Taylor isn’t a world beater, but he provides the Bills with their most stable passing presence since Drew Bledsoe, protects the ball, and adds a dynamic running threat from the pocket. That may not be worth the $30.75 million the team would have owed him in guaranteed money on his old deal, but it’s in line with the nearly $10 million he’ll make in 2017.
Carolina Panthers: Springing for Christian McCaffrey
The Panthers made plans for life after 30-year-old Jonathan Stewart by drafting Christian McCaffrey with the No. 8 pick. McCaffrey fits in Carolina’s scheme but also has the versatility as a receiver and returner to contribute right away.
Chicago Bears: Drafting Mitchell Trubisky, despite everything
The Bears, in their quest to be the new Browns, signed an underwhelming quarterback to a deal potentially worth $45 million before trading a handful of draft picks to move up one spot and select a passer with only one season of starting experience under his belt. But hey: If Chicago thinks Trubisky is the guy, then he’s worth the overpay.
Cincinnati Bengals: Letting Andrew Whitworth walk in free agency
Cincinnati had a rough run in free agency, losing two of its most important linemen in the process. However, letting Whitworth leave may have been financially prudent. The stalwart left tackle will be 36 this season, and while his best seasons have come in his 30s, $15 million in guarantees is still a risk for a blocker whose play could drop off in 2017.
Cleveland Browns: Not overthinking the No. 1 pick
Here’s a sign the tide is changing for the Browns: It’s hard to pick their best move — not because there weren’t any, but because there were several ones this offseason. The simplest answer is that the Browns made the right call to go with pass rusher Myles Garrett with the No. 1 pick.
Dallas Cowboys: Strengthening pass rush with Taco Charlton
Heading into the offseason, the Cowboys’ biggest needs were the pass rush and the secondary. Dallas didn’t have a lot of cap space to work with, so bringing in defensive end Taco Charlton in the first round of the draft was a smart way to check off one box.
Denver Broncos: Not panicking for a quarterback
The Broncos could have jumped up the draft order with a flashy trade or thrown money at a middling free agent like Glennon, but instead decided to back their young passers. Trevor Siemian was adequate in 2016, and 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch was considerably worse, but he has a much higher upside. If the pair can meet expectations, they’ll provide surplus value on modest contracts.
Detroit Lions: Investing in Matthew Stafford’s protection
Stafford rewarded Detroit’s faith with an MVP-level 2016 season before a broken finger derailed his campaign. The Lions worked to ensure his safety this offseason by adding a pair of high-profile blockers in free agency. T.J. Lang and Ricky Wagner should offer an immediate upgrade for a franchise that allowed Stafford to get sacked on more than 6 percent of his dropbacks.
Green Bay Packers: Landing Martellus Bennett
Aaron Rodgers hasn’t had a premier tight end target in Green Bay since Jermichael Finley’s last healthy season in 2012. Now he’s got another big Texan to throw to with Bennett on board. Combining the former Patriot with Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, and Geronimo Allison will once again make the Pack one of the league’s most fearsome passing offenses.
Houston Texans: Dumping quarterback Brock Osweiler
Osweiler was nothing short of a disaster last season, and the Texans wisely cut their losses after just one year. After dumping his salary onto the Browns, the Texans are trying again at quarterback with Deshaun Watson. Time will tell if trading a first-rounder for Watson was the right call, but he can’t be that much worse than Osweiler.
Indianapolis Colts: Jettisoning general manager Ryan Grigson
Grigson bet hard on aging veterans and ultimately failed to balance that with high-performing young prospects. New hire Chris Ballard has already made strides to improve the defense by adding two of free agency’s top linemen: Johnathan Hankins and Jabaal Sheard. The Colts also drafted Malik Hooker and Quincy Wilson, two impact defenders. The new faces could help the franchise return to the top of the AFC South.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Using 1st-round pick on Leonard Fournette
With Blake Bortles’ future hanging in the balance, the Jaguars needed a strong upgrade in the running game to hide him as much as possible. They may have accomplished that with Fournette, who has a perfect combination of size, speed, and power. He’s the type of running back you can build an offense around, and the Jaguars are hoping he can make an immediate impact.
Kansas City Chiefs: Drafting their QB of the future
Alex Smith won’t be around forever, and he already limits the Chiefs offense with his risk-averse game. Trading up 17 draft spots to get Patrick Mahomes II was a gamble, but Mahomes’ big arm and fearless play should open up a lot more options in the passing game. He’ll get time to sit and learn under Andy Reid, which is pretty much the best situation a young quarterback could ask for.
Los Angeles Chargers: Surrounding Philip Rivers with weapons
Rivers must be pleased with the new tools he’ll get to play with in 2017. While Swiss Army Knife tailback Danny Woodhead left in free agency, the Chargers replaced that void with All-American wideout Mike Williams. They also landed two of the draft’s best blockers, Forrest Lamp and Dan Feeney. Pair that group with healthy seasons from Keenan Allen and Melvin Gordon, and you’ve got the recipe for one of the league’s most explosive offenses.
Los Angeles Rams: Hiring Sean McVay
What’s the polar opposite of Jeff Fisher’s uncanny ability to coast on coaching accomplishments from nearly two decades ago? How about hiring a 31-year-old wunderkind for his first head coaching job? McVay’s offensive wizardry should punch up an offense that bordered on unwatchable in 2016.
Miami Dolphins: Extending the core of their defense
In a two-month span, Miami came to terms with veteran defenders Cameron Wake, Kiko Alonso, and Reshad Jones. While extending the 35-year-old Wake to an extra two years could prove to be dangerous, that trio forms the foundation on which the Dolphin defense can grow. When healthy, all three are Pro Bowl talents who can provide leadership for young prospects like Charles Harris, Raekwon McMillan, and Jordan Phillips.
Minnesota Vikings: Letting Adrian Peterson go
Peterson’s Hall of Fame career was established in purple and gold, but it won’t end that way after the Vikings avoided the temptation to retain their aging tailback at an untenable price. Instead, he signed with the Saints on a two-year, $7 million deal. In his place will be former Raider Latavius Murray and Florida State’s all-time rushing leader Dalvin Cook. They’ll try to revive a rushing attack that ranked dead last in the NFL last fall.
New England Patriots: Trading for Brandin Cooks
The Patriots gave Tom Brady his most explosive receiving threat since Randy Moss by trading the No. 32 pick in this year’s draft to New Orleans in exchange for Cooks. The move was the antithesis of an old Bill Belichick standard — trading a player with a limited amount of team control (in Cooks’ case, two years) for draft assets — but should pay dividends as Brady ostensibly enters the twilight of his career.
New Orleans Saints: Getting the best CB in the draft
The Saints secondary finished 31st and 32nd in the league over the past two seasons, and the pass defense was in dire need of upgrades. Using the No. 11 pick on Marshon Lattimore, the top cornerback in the draft, was a wise choice.
New York Giants: Bringing Brandon Marshall on board
Odell Beckham Jr. is great, but he needed a stronger supporting cast around him. Although Marshall is getting up there in years, he can still play and should have a couple of more years left. Bringing in Marshall also allows Sterling Shepard to move to the slot position, where he’s most comfortable.
New York Jets: Selecting safety Jamal Adams in the draft
This hasn’t been a great year for the Jets. They signed soon-to-be 38-year-old Josh McCown, who could be their No. 1 quarterback for 2017. Their top receiver stands to be Eric Decker, who missed all but three games last fall. The only bright spot was picking up Adams, a top-three prospect, with the No. 6 pick, which also allowed them to move on from Calvin Pryor.
Oakland Raiders: Pulling Marshawn Lynch out of retirement
The Raiders don’t have much time left in the Bay Area, but they’re making the most of it by getting Oakland native Marshawn Lynch to come out of retirement. The Raiders lost Latavius Murray to the Vikings in free agency and needed another running back. Beast Mode will now share carries with Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington, hoping to run the Raiders to a Super Bowl before they ultimately move to Vegas.
Philadelphia Eagles: Giving Carson Wentz targets
Jordan Matthews is a talented slot receiver, but he was miscast as the Eagles’ top wideout in 2016. In order to flesh out the team’s depth chart, Philadelphia signed Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffery this winter. That’s great news for Wentz, the rookie quarterback who came on strong early in the season but faded as opposing defenses grew wise to his limited array of targets downfield.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Rebuilding the Steel Curtain
The Steelers continued a recent trend of investing in their defense, spending two of their top three picks (T.J. Watt, Cameron Sutton) on high-ceiling defenders and adding Tyson Alualu and Coty Sensabaugh in free agency. If Watt and Sutton can crack the lineup, Pittsburgh could field nine starters it drafted in Round 3 or higher since 2013.
San Francisco 49ers: Swapping picks with the Bears
Trading back one spot from No. 2 to No. 3 was genius, because the 49ers still got Solomon Thomas. Stocking up on some extra draft capital and getting the player the Niners were targeting anyway is a win.
Seattle Seahawks: Not trading Richard Sherman
Richard Sherman has made his share of headlines this offseason, but there’s no denying his value to the Seahawks secondary. The four-time All-Pro remains the kind of special player who can singlehandedly shift games. Trading him, even for a pair of first-round draft picks, may have shut Seattle’s gradually closing championship window for good.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Getting more weapons for Jameis Winston
The Bucs brought in DeSean Jackson in free agency and then used their first-round pick to add the best tight end this draft had to offer, O.J. Howard. Winston has to be happy about that.
Tennessee Titans: Addressing gaping holes at receiver and defensive back
Marcus Mariota has all the tools to become an elite NFL quarterback, and the Titans gave him some much-needed backup in the draft by adding prolific Western Michigan wideout Corey Davis with the No. 5 overall pick. They also shored up the beleaguered secondary. Free agent acquisitions Logan Ryan and Johnathan Cyprien should make an immediate impact, and Adoree’ Jackson is the kind of rookie the team can build on.
Washington: Beefing up its defensive line
Washington gave up 4.6 yards per rush last season — a mark that ranked 26th in the league. Adding a pair of burly run-stoppers in Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain will improve a unit that has to face Ezekiel Elliott twice a year.