With the NFL Draft now only just a few short weeks away, let’s take a look at what each team’s best move was so far during the free agency period. This is not a complete list (as a deal could be made official after this article has been published), but a highlight of each team’s most impactful decisions over the past few months.
– Baltimore Ravens –
After allowing Derrick Henry to singlehandedly run for almost 200 yards in last year’s Divisional Round, the Ravens decided they needed to put in extra work to fix the front seven of their defense. Calais Campbell, Derek Wolfe, and Matthew Judon (franchise tag) were some of the more solid moves for Baltimore moving forward. While they used most of their money to stack the defense, they’ll need to look at the vast wide receiver pool in the draft to get a few more weapons for Lamar Jackson.
– Buffalo Bills –
How did the Bills improve the one piece of their game that needed massive work? They traded for Vikings’ wide receiver Stefon Diggs, that’s how. With Diggs lined up opposite of John Brown, the Bills now have a vast array of weapons to help Josh Allen continuously move the ball. They may try to find a running back in the draft to complement second-year stud Devin Singletary, but Buffalo is on the up and up, making the case for a division favorite.
– Cincinnati Bengals –
The Bengals spent a ton of money this offseason to fill holes on defense and try to speed up the rebuild (the main word here is ‘try’). They gave $53 million to defensive tackle D.J. Reader while also signing Trae Waynes and Vonn Bell to the secondary. Wide receiver A.J. Green was franchised tagged in hopes that he can stay healthy and take the field for the first time since 2018. Obviously, the big questions here are – do the Bengals grab Joe Burrow, and do they just throw him straight into the fire of the NFL? With Joe Mixon, Gio Bernard, Tyler Boyd, and A.J. Green on the roster, Burrow will have consistent weapons at his disposal. We’ll have to play the waiting game on this one.
– Cleveland Browns –
In what was a massive year of disappointment for Cleveland, the Browns have done a decent job patching up most of their problems this offseason in preparation for the 2020-21 season. With Baker Mayfield as their leader for the foreseeable future, Cleveland went out and grabbed three pillar pieces. They signed a tremendous right tackle in Jack Conklin. They acquired Austin Hooper in free agency, who will be a reliable target in the middle of the field. Finally, and most importantly, they signed veteran QB Case Keenum to serve as Mayfield’s mentor. Those three moves put the Browns in a tremendous spot offensively. While they still need to fill a huge hole at left tackle, they’ll most likely use their No. 10 overall pick in a tackle-heavy class.
– Denver Broncos –
The Broncos were big spenders in free agency. Acquisitions of A.J. Bouye and Jurrell Casey on the defensive end and Melvin Gordon and Graham Glasgow on offense will fix a lot of holes from last season. Drew Lock has been chosen to lead this team after Denver’s departure from Super Bowl Champ Joe Flacco. The Broncos still need a few weapons on offense, but they are headed in the right direction. Expect them to find value receivers and offensive lineman in this year’s draft.
– Houston Texans –
Houston may be in a world of trouble offensively this season. After trading star wideout DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for David Johnson, the Texans now have no receiver on the roster that had more than 700 receiving yards in a season (Will Fuller – 49 rec / 670 yards in 2019). Their offensive weapons of Johnson, Kenny Stills, and Will Fuller are solid NFL pieces, but they have all struggled with injuries in recent years. The Houston offense can get thin very fast, which doesn’t bode well for Deshaun Watson regardless of how elite his play is. The cherry on top of all of this is that the Texans don’t have a first-round pick in this draft (pick was traded away).
– Indianapolis Colts –
Indianapolis is now under the leadership of veteran Philip Rivers. Rivers, who signed a one-year, $25 million contract at the start of free agency, will look to bring the Colts back to the playoffs after the departure of Andrew Luck. Question is – who does he throw the ball to? With Eric Ebron gone and T.Y. Hilton injury-riddled the past few seasons, the Colts do not have the consistency at wide receiver to contend in the AFC. They won’t be able to take advantage of the receiver-filled draft class either, as they traded their first-round pick to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange or defensive lineman DeForest Buckner last month.
– Jacksonville Jaguars –
Jacksonville has placed their hopes in second year QB Gardner Minshew. Taking more of a ‘rebuilding’ stance without actually saying it, the Jaguars decided they weren’t going to spend big in free agency (outside of signing Joe Schobert to a 5-year, $53 million deal). The defense that we saw a few years ago in the AFC Championship game is slowly dwindling, with one player after another wanting out of this system. It’s definitely not all over for Jacksonville already this season but expect a few growing pains from Minshew in his sophomore season.
– Kansas City Chiefs –
Kansas City’s offseason goal was simple: don’t do anything, just run it back in 2020. The Patrick Mahomes rookie contract window is still open, so Kansas City will do whatever they can to keep the roster that just won the Super Bowl and try to do it all over again. Franchise tagging Chris Jones and signing Sammy Watkins are things to highlight, but not much changes for the Chiefs this year. They’re still elite, and they’re still one of, if not the best team in the league.
– Las Vegas Raiders –
The Raiders scored with elite linebacker Cory Littleton, who was one of the prized possessions heading into 2020 Free Agency. In addition, they were able to also strengthen their defense with signings of safety Jeff Heath, edge rusher Carl Nassib, corner Eli Apple, and defensive tackle Maliek Collins. The offense is a little bit of a different story, as we have another quarterback battle on our hands. Marcus Mariota was brought in from Tennessee to compete with Derek Carr for the Raiders starting job in their new home of Las Vegas. They have two first-round picks in the draft, so we could see the Raiders select a wide receiver at No.12 to pair with Darren Waller in this offense.
– Los Angeles Chargers –
The Chargers were able to have a winning free agency despite being overshadowed without even trying by the Chiefs in the AFC West. They strengthened their o-line by acquiring Bryan Bulaga at right tackle and Trai Turner at left tackle. Extending tight end Hunter Henry and running back Austin Ekeler will give whoever ends up being quarterback a variety of strong weapons on offense. Chris Harris’ addition boosts this secondary to the top of the league. Whoever ends up being QB (Tyrod Taylor is currently the favorite) will have some challenges to overcome, but the infrastructure is definitely there for LA this season.
– Miami Dolphins –
The Dolphins are surprisingly one of the major winners of the free agency period. Their main goals of the offseason involved bolstering the trenches and finding their quarterback for years to come. They’ve done a solid job of the initial goal, signing edge rusher Shaq Lawson and strengthening the defense with signings of Kyle Van Noy and Byron Jones. Ereck Flowers was added to the offensive line for added veteran leadership as well. It’s unclear if Miami wants to go with Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert, or Jordan Love, but they’ll have a few more weeks to figure out that exact scenario.
– New England Patriots –
The rebuild for the New England Patriots has begun. After Tom Brady’s departure, New England started to immediately get younger, parting ways with veterans and making new openings for younger/cheaper players. There’s not much room in the salary cap either, as the Patriots actually owe $26 million to guys that are no longer on the roster. One of the main questions circling this team is this – Is Jarrett Stidham the future? The young QB showed promise in last year’s preseason, but obviously everything changes when you get the starting job (especially after 20 years of Tom Brady). The Patriots are getting younger, they’re wiping the slate clean, and they’re going to dive into a season without one half of the Brady/Belichick duo.
– New York Jets –
The Jets are in need of offensive weapons with the loss of Robby Anderson. While they did manage to acquire Bucs receiver Breshad Perriman, they still need a few weapons to help Le’Veon Bell, Sam Darnold, and Jamison Crowder. They’ve done a decent job strengthening their offensive line to protect Darnold, signing center Connor McGovern, left tackle George Fant, and guard Greg Van Roten. I’d expect that their main targets in the upcoming draft include a pass rusher, offensive line depth, and receivers.
– Pittsburgh Steelers –
The only reason that the Pittsburgh Steelers were able to stay alive last year was due to the absolutely phenomenal play of the defense down the stretch. The ‘Steel Curtain’ was able to hold their last eight opponents to an average score of 16.75 ppg. They’ve managed to keep most of that same defense intact for the 2020-21 season, but they won’t be able to make the playoffs unless Ben Roethlisberger and James Conner stay healthy. The offense struggled under backup QBs Mason Rudolph and Devlin ‘Duck’ Hodges, which then lead to Pittsburgh reaching out in free agency to acquire Colts’ tight end Eric Ebron. Ebron will bring a much-needed presence in the middle of the field and red zone for Big Ben.
– Tennessee Titans –
Tennessee’s main goal of the offseason was to make sure that they keep their core pieces in an effort to run it back another year for a return to the AFC Championship game. Ryan Tannehill’s contract extension and Derrick Henry’s inevitable extension will help, but they did have to let go of a few veteran’s in order to make that money available. They may need another pass-rusher to help Vic Beasley, so I’d expect them to look that way in the draft.