Each year during the frenzy of free agency, there are a few players who stand out because they land in a much better situation with their new team. Whether a player was unhappy with his previous team or simply underperformed, some guys simply need a change of scenery.
That’s still true this year. Even during an unconventional offseason due to the coronavirus pandemic, there have been dozens of signings and even a few blockbuster trades. Free agency continued unabated, and with it many players looking for a fresh start.
Below, we’ve highlighted a few of those guys who should benefit the most from their new surroundings.
Marcus Mariota, QB
Ostensibly, Mariota is going to Las Vegas to be a backup to Derek Carr. Realistically, he’ll be competing with Carr — who has been involved in trade rumors in the past — if the starter falters even a little bit. That’s a good place for Mariota to be after he saw his Titans career end with a whimper last year at the hands of Ryan Tannehill.
Mariota threw 45 total touchdowns in his first two seasons in the league, but he fell far short of those marks in each of the following three seasons, while interceptions remained a problem. He was benched last season and replaced by Tannehill, who had the best year of his career and got the Titans all the way to the AFC Championship Game.
Mariota can do the same thing that Tannehill did to him if Carr gives him an opportunity. The No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft, Mariota is still 26 years old and has a lot of upside. He has struggled with accuracy and his decision-making thus far in the NFL, but he has shown flashes of high-level play:
One area he really needs to improve is his pocket awareness, because he frequently takes hits and sacks that better quarterbacks avoid, either by throwing the ball away or escaping the pocket.
Still, there’s a chance he can improve with his new team. Raiders head coach Jon Gruden was a big fan of Mariota when he entered the draft, as was general manager Mike Mayock. Mariota is on a two-year contract as well, so if he makes his way into the starting lineup and surprises, the Raiders don’t have to worry about him taking off after one season.
Vic Beasley, DE
Falcons —> Titans
Beasley was a first-round pick in 2015, drafted to be a force on the edge in Atlanta’s defense. In his second year, he put up 15.5 sacks, forced six fumbles, and had a fumble recovery for a touchdown. However, he never reached those heights again, compiling 18 sacks over the next three seasons.
He wasn’t even a full-time starter for the 2017 and 2018 seasons, but he made his way back into a regular starting role in 2019. Playing on the fifth-year option, he had eight sacks and two forced fumbles. Despite the slight uptick in production, the Falcons elected to let him hit the open market. He joins the Titans, who need help in the pass-rushing department and are trying to improve on defense after their hard-nosed offense pushed them to the playoffs last season.
It’s a one-year deal, so there’s little risk for Tennessee. For Beasley, he’ll get an opportunity to earn a much bigger deal a year from now, especially if he can return to his 2016 form. The Titans will be hoping he can complement outside linebacker Harold Landry, while providing an upgrade over guys like Reggie Gilbert and Derick Roberson on the edge.
Beasley occasionally dropped back as a linebacker with the Falcons, but his best chance of success with Tennessee would be rededicated himself to one task: chasing opposing quarterbacks.
Eric Ebron, TE
Ebron was the Lions’ first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, but he’s struggled with consistency over the years, especially in Detroit. He made it to the Pro Bowl in 2018 after joining the Colts. That season, he went off for 750 yards and 13 touchdowns, but injuries limited his 2019 campaign. Last season, he caught just 31 passes for 375 yards and three touchdowns while playing in 11 games. Of course, some of that decline can be attributed to the Colts losing Andrew Luck to retirement before the season.
Ebron plays like an oversized receiver, and with the emphasis on big pass-catching tight ends in the NFL these days, there’s still hope that he can become elite, along with guys like Travis Kelce and George Kittle.
In Pittsburgh, Ebron will get a chance to catch passes from Ben Roethlisberger (provided he’s healthy after a season-ending elbow injury), who has been searching for more help from the tight end position for years. Last season, Vance McDonald was the team’s top tight end, and he totaled just 273 yards. With the lack of depth at the tight end position in the upcoming NFL Draft, Ebron’s two-year deal with the Steelers seems like a good match.
Nelson Agholor, WR
Eagles —> Raiders
The Eagles have a fanbase renowned for not being shy about ... let’s call it voicing their displeasure with the team and its players. Over the past several seasons, nobody has drawn that ire like Nelson Agholor, who never quite lived up to his status as the 20th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Agholor’s biggest knock is he is prone to drops, but in reality, it’s more that his drops were high-profile. He only had four drops in 2019 and three drops in 2018, neither of which are ideal but are within the normal range for a wide receiver. Still, he was often the scapegoat for any problems that Philadelphia had on offense, despite issues at the quarterback position and the running game.
He eclipsed 700 yards in 2017 and 2018, but he managed only 363 yards in 11 games last year, when he spent some time on the injured list. In five seasons, he has 2,515 yards, which is well below expectations for a first-round pick. Agholor is making barely over the veteran minimum on a one-year deal, the very definition of a “prove it” contract.
In Las Vegas, Agholor will be dealing with a no-nonsense head coach in Gruden, who will do his level best to get Agholor to be the player many thought he could be. Carr (or Mariota) makes plenty of mistakes, but he throws for a lot of yards and the Raiders need a receiver who can step up alongside tight end Darren Waller.
Karl Joseph, S
Raiders —> Browns
Despite making Joseph a first-round pick in 2016, the Raiders took a long time to develop him into a starting safety, and it was never quite clear why. When Joseph saw the field, he played well. He was having his best year for the Raiders in 2019, until he suffered a season-ending injury while snaring a game-sealing interception against the Chargers.
However, Joseph wasn’t a player they seemed to like, even with his consistently strong play. The Raiders had tried to trade him in 2018. When they didn’t make a deal, they declined his fifth-year option before the 2019 season. Then the Raiders drafted Johnathan Abram in the first round that same year.
The decision to move on from Joseph feels a bit like the situation they saw with cornerback Gareon Conley. Another first-round pick, Conley wasn’t a fit in their system and they wound up trading him to the Texans, where he played much better. Both Joseph and Conley were drafted before the Raiders switched to Mayock at general manager, and both dealt with the Raiders running through multiple defensive coordinators during their time with the team.
Their loss will be the Browns’ gain, as Joseph is coming in a one-year contract. He’s snared an interception per season with 15 passes defensed, and that’s while the Raiders mostly used him as a box safety despite him being more of a coverage corner. He should be able to get back to a proper safety role with the Browns, who have openings after Damarious Randall and Morgan Burnett departed this offseason. Don’t be surprised if Joseph winds up in the Pro Bowl in the near future.