It has been a dizzying ride through the early part of the NFL’s free agency and trading period, with an unprecedented series of quarterback changes and a host of signings among several elite players that could shift the balance of power throughout the league.
There’s still plenty of time left in the roster-building process, and next month’s draft no doubt will have an important impact on what happens in 2020 and beyond. And there will be more key signings as teams take advantage of free-agent bargains and the inevitable availability of veteran players who might be on the salary cap chopping block in the days and weeks ahead.
Here’s a look at the offseason winners and losers so far:
Buccaneers: Tampa Bay gets the biggest free-agent prize of all, securing the greatest quarterback in NFL history by signing Tom Brady to a two-year, $50 million deal. The Bucs aren’t getting Brady in his prime, but he’s certainly a major upgrade from interception-prone Jameis Winston and instantly puts Tampa Bay in the playoff equation. Brady will have the luxury of an excellent set of skill position players featuring wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and tight end O.J. Howard. And any fantasy football player looking for a late-round pick ought to consider tight end Cameron Brate, who figures to be targeted plenty in Brady’s offense.
Ravens: There’s no denying that 2019 MVP Lamar Jackson was a disappointment in the Ravens’ stunning home playoff loss to the Titans in the divisional round, but it’s also no secret that the Ravens needed a defensive upgrade to lend support to the offense. Enter defensive end Calais Campbell, who was acquired in a trade with the Jaguars. He’s a terrific talent, an elite pass rusher and one of the best locker-room guys in the league. The Ravens also signed Rams defensive lineman Michael Brockers, although the deal was voided because of ankle concerns. But make no mistake: Campbell is the kind of difference-maker the Ravens need as they push to get back to Super Bowl contention.
Jets: Joe Douglas had a ton of cap space to work with in his first full offseason as the general manager, and he spent wisely to fill several needs instead of investing heavily for big-name players with exorbitant salaries. It’s a different dynamic from the Mike Maccagnan days, but Douglas was able to re-tool the offensive line by signing tackle George Fant, guard Greg Van Roten and center Connor McGovern and re-signing guard Alex Lewis, who did solid work last year after being traded from Baltimore. Douglas opted not to spend big on Robby Anderson, getting Breshad Perriman at about half the price and still leaving himself in good position in a receiver-rich draft to address the position down the road. Douglas also left money to re-sign Pro Bowl safety Jamal Adams.
Dolphins: Yes, the Dolphins still have a massive hole at quarterback, but that should be filled in the draft with Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert, Jordan Love or possibly even Joe Burrow if they decide to move up to No. 1. In the meantime, Miami was aggressive on the open market, securing No. 1 cornerback Byron Jones, linebacker Kyle Van Noy, defensive end Shaq Lawson, running back Jordan Howard, center Ted Karras and even guard Ereck Flowers, the former Giants washout at offensive tackle who is much better suited inside. The Dolphins spent much of last year preparing for a rebuild by shedding several salaries, and now they are backfilling with some smart signings. Once they get their long-term quarterback, they’ll soon be ready to emerge as a playoff contender.
Bills: It was a bold decision by general manager Brandon Beane to trade for disgruntled Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs, but that’s the kind of go-for-it move you need to make for a team that is coming off a playoff season and is ready to be a consistent postseason team. Third-year quarterback Josh Allen will greatly benefit from having Diggs and slot receiver Cole Beasley, a solid addition from last year. If any team is ready to take over for the Patriots now that Brady is out of the division, it’s Buffalo.
Texans: Bill O’Brien isn’t the most popular man in Houston these days, and for good reason. When you trade a future Hall of Fame receiver for an above-average running back . . . well, there’s your answer. DeAndre Hopkins, traded to Arizona, no longer will be Deshaun Watson’s go-to receiver, which creates a big vacuum for a Texans team that needs all the playmakers it can get. O’Brien has been given unlimited authority now that he’s been named the general manager, but a trade like this is why you’re better off having a GM who isn't the coach available to prevent the coach from making a big mistake.
Patriots: Bill Belichick was willing to give Brady one more year, but not two. So it’s on to life after the greatest quarterback ever for the Patriots, who for the first time in two decades will have a different starter enter the season. Belichick is the greatest coach ever, so he’ll find a way to survive, but the Patriots’ dynasty days clearly are over. And Brady wasn’t the only player who left New England; the Patriots will be without Van Noy, Karras, special teams star Nate Ebner and cornerback Duron Harmon, among others. We haven’t ascribed the “R” word to the Patriots since 2000, but it truly is time for the rebuild.
Rams: The Rams were among the most aggressive teams in acquiring players the last two years as they became Super Bowl contenders, but they stretched the limits of their salary cap and are paying the price. It’s been an offseason house-cleaning with the release of running back Todd Gurley and linebacker Clay Matthews, and they also lost linebackers Cory Littleton and Dante Fowler and cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman. The window is still open for Sean McVay’s team, but perhaps not for much longer.
Cowboys: The Cowboys did re-sign Amari Cooper and made sure they kept Dak Prescott at least for the 2020 season on the franchise tag. But they were hit hard by free-agent losses, including Byron Jones, tight end Jason Witten, defensive end Robert Quinn, wide receiver Randall Cobb and defensive tackle Maliek Collins. Center Travis Frederick retired. That’s a lot of talent gone in one fell swoop, and Jerry Jones will need a big draft to help make up for the departures. He did manage to sign defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and safety Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, but there is much more work to be done.
Jaguars: This team is in nowhere land. The Jaguars fired Tom Coughlin and have proceeded to tear the team apart. Gone: quarterback Nick Foles, cornerback A.J. Bouye and defensive end Calais Campbell. They slapped the franchise tag on pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue, but he has publicly stated his desire to play elsewhere. Gardner Minshew gets the call at quarterback after a promising rookie season, but the Jags seem far away from contending again.