After months of endless rumors, mock drafts and the occasional actual transaction, the player movement portion of the NFL offseason is basically over. Sure, we might end up with a few guys getting traded between now and August, but the vast majority of moves are in the can. What your favorite team’s roster looks like now is just about what it’s going to look like for the 2016 campaign.
So, now that everything is settled, let’s run through the NFL and take a bird’s-eye view of each team’s offseason. We’ll start with the AFC East, which bled pass-rushing talent and saw a number of intriguing veterans move within the division.
The Patriots have had a stranglehold on the AFC East for the past 15 years, but with quarterback Tom Brady possibly suspended for the first four games of the season, the door might have cracked open for the division’s first non-New England champion since 2008.
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What went right
They kept their offensive line together. After struggling through a dismal performance in 2014, Buffalo’s offensive line played much better last year. A huge chunk of the improvement was surprisingly driven by former Dolphins guard Richie Incognito, who made the Pro Bowl after spending 2014 out of football following the hazing scandal in Miami.
Locking up the left side of their offensive line had to be a priority for the Bills heading into the offseason, and they were able to do so, retaining Incognito and left tackle Cordy Glenn, the latter of whom signed a five-year, $ 65 million deal last week. It always seemed like the best-case scenario for both the Bills and Incognito was a reunion, and his three-year, $ 15.8 million deal should realistically play out as a two-year deal for just over $ 8 million. That’s a reasonable contract for both sides.
They moved on from Mario Williams. The Bills were basically capped out as the 2016 league year began, thanks to some overzealous spending a year ago. Trading for running back LeSean McCoy was aggressive, but the contract extension they gave McCoy as part of the deal looked needless at the time and naive now, given how he was outperformed by both Karlos Williams and Mike Gillislee.
The Bills also signed Charles Clay to an onerous offer sheet with a massive $ 10 million roster bonus in its second season, designed to prevent the Dolphins from matching. Miami didn’t, but for cap purposes, the Bills had to convert the roster bonus to a signing bonus to spread the $ 10 million payment across the remaining four years of Clay’s deal. That basically locks Buffalo into paying $ 24 million over the next three years for a guy who produced 40 receiving yards per game last season. Those are two of the worst contracts in football right now.
Thirsty for cap space, the obvious move was going to be for the Bills to move on from pass-rusher Mario Williams, who fell out of favor during the 2015 season in the way that players often fall out of favor when they realize they’re going to become a salary cap casualty. Williams produced just five sacks in 15 games and never seemed comfortable in coach Rex Ryan’s scheme. With a $ 19.9 million cap hold, the Bills freed nearly $ 13 million in badly needed funds by releasing Super Mario. Williams is still a useful player, but at 31, he doesn’t justify that sort of price tag.
The cap crunch did prevent the Bills from spending serious money on a replacement; they committed less than $ 1 million in guaranteed money to new players once the league year began. Even low-cost veterans like Wallace Gilberry were beyond Buffalo’s reach. Instead, they used their first-round pick on Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson, who profiles as more of an edge-setting run-stopper than the sort of pass-rusher the Bills might need with Williams out. The primary pass-rush duties now fall to Jerry Hughes, who had just five sacks last year and has never been the lead rusher for an NFL team.
They upgraded their front seven. In addition to Lawson, the Bills used a second-round pick on Alabama inside linebacker Reggie Ragland, who gives Buffalo the sort of run-thumping player on the interior that Ryan had in all of his prior stops but lacked last season. Preston Brown was miscast in the role David Harris played for Ryan in New York, but Ragland is a similar sort of player to Harris. Given that the Bills were 30th in DVOA against the run last year, the additions of Lawson and Ragland were badly needed.
What went wrong
They traded two picks to get Ragland. Concerned his team wouldn’t get its inside linebacker, general manager Doug Whaley sent two fourth-round picks (one in 2017) to the Bears to move up eight spots in the second round and grab Ragland. You can understand why the Bills wanted Ragland, who some sources had projected as a first-round pick, but the Bills paid an exorbitant price.
That’s a lot of draft capital to give away — according to the Chase Stuart draft chart, the Bills essentially used the 13th overall pick on Ragland, given the amount they sent to Chicago. By that same chart, they paid $ 1.68 on the dollar for the trade. The issue isn’t wanting Ragland; it’s the cost of giving away the opportunity to acquire more cheap talent at below-market prices.
The Bills are both a capped-out team and an organization that’s low on homegrown drafted talent after the Sammy Watkins trade, a 2014 deal that looks short-sighted (given the presence of arguably superior receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Allen Robinson later in that same draft). Teams in this position should be trading down to acquire more draft picks, not trading up and getting rid of midround assets in the process.
They paid an exorbitant sum to lock up Glenn. Glenn’s five-year contract contains $ 36 million in guarantees. Unlike the deals for a vast majority of 2016 free agents, most of Glenn’s base salary in 2018 is guaranteed. That’s consistent with the Bills’ reputation: They regularly hand out deals that are friendlier than those given to similar players by other teams.
Re-sign Stephon Gilmore. The latest product off of Buffalo’s assembly line of star cornerbacks, Gilmore was the primary reason why the Bills posted the league’s fifth-best DVOA against No. 1 receivers. He’s not peak Darrelle Revis, but he’s about as close as the Bills are going to get, and his presence gives Ryan a lot of freedom in his game plans. Gilmore is signed for one more season at $ 11.1 million as part of the option year of his rookie deal, but the Bills might need to go above that figure with a deal in the $ 12 million-per-year range to keep Gilmore in Western New York after 2016.
What went right
They drafted Laremy Tunsil. While teams that have invested in players with far more checkered histories blanched at the idea of drafting the Ole Miss tackle after his social media accounts were hacked moments before the draft, the Dolphins wisely snatched up Tunsil with the No. 13 pick. Miami didn’t particularly need a tackle in the short term with Branden Albert and 2014 first-rounder Ja’Wuan James manning the edges, but Albert suffered a nasty knee injury in 2014 and could very well be a cap casualty next year.
Tunsil will slot in at guard for the time being and should end up as Miami’s left tackle for years to come, long after anyone has pretended to care about whether he smoked weed in college.
Denver bailed them out of the C.J. Anderson offer sheet. Needing a running back, the Dolphins offered Anderson a four-year, $ 18 million deal with $ 6 million in guaranteed money for 2016. Anderson showed that he can be a useful player during Denver’s run to the Super Bowl, but he was also an undrafted free agent who only got his shot in 2014 once everybody in front of him got injured, and then he spent most of 2015 benched behind Ronnie Hillman.
Chances are that you can find a back like Anderson in the later rounds of the draft or in unrestricted free agency, and those backs don’t cost $ 6 million.
What went wrong
They mysteriously swapped picks with Philadelphia to acquire a terrible contract. To what must have been bemused delight in Philly, the Dolphins sent the eighth pick to the Eagles for the 13th selection and two veterans, Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell, who failed to launch during their lone season in Pennsylvania. Alonso is basically a low-cost flier, given that he’s set to make just under $ 1 million in the final year of his rookie deal. He might very well respond better to playing middle linebacker in a 4-3, where he was impressive during his rookie year with the Bills.
Maxwell, though, is another story. He was a disastrous signing from Seattle; the Eagles must have been itching to give away one of former coach Chip Kelly’s personnel mistakes and get out from under the $ 13.5 million in guaranteed money remaining on Maxwell’s deal. The difference between the eighth and 13th picks by Stuart’s chart is a fifth-round pick; by the traditional chart, it’s a pick at the top of the third round.
The Dolphins were the league’s worst team against No. 1 receivers last year as Brent Grimes struggled through a disappointing season, so they did need to upgrade at cornerback — but Maxwell was a mess in that same role for the Eagles. At the $ 8.5 million price tag, they would have been better off signing somebody like former Dolphins cornerback Sean Smith for a little more money while holding on to their pick.
They renounced Olivier Vernon‘s transition tag to sign Mario Williams. After publicly trying to suggest they could pull a sign-and-trade with Vernon, the Dolphins let him into free agency to sign Williams. The Fins weren’t necessarily wrong to pass on re-signing Vernon at the staggering sum he received from the Giants, but the mistakes made with prior moves and in previous seasons made it more difficult for Mike Tannenbaum to lock up Vernon before the offseason began. Vernon for Williams is a downgrade.
They traded up repeatedly in the draft. Even after giving up some of their draft capital as part of the Maxwell trade, the Dolphins stretched their spending even thinner with their draft-day moves. They sent a fourth-round pick to the Ravens to move up five spots in the second round and grab cornerback Xavien Howard before sending third- and fourth-rounders in next year’s draft to Minnesota to select Leonte Carroo in the third round. Then they made one of the rare trade-down moves that got a negative return, sending the 147th pick to the Patriots for Nos. 196, 204 and 250. The Patriots then sent that selection and the 243th pick to the Seahawks for pick 225 and a 2017 fourth-rounder, a deal the Dolphins would have been better off taking themselves.
They re-signed Cameron Wake. At 34 and coming off of a torn Achilles, there’s a legitimate chance that Wake won’t regain his form as one of the better pass-rushers in all of football. The Dolphins had Wake signed for one more year with a cap hit of $ 9.8 million, but over the weekend, they re-signed him to a two-year extension with $ 10 million in new, fully guaranteed money.
Before agreeing to this deal, there was a chance that a monster season from Wake would have forced the Dolphins to spend the franchise tag on him in 2017. But the chances are greater that the Dolphins paid for the player they’re hoping Wake still is instead of the guy who shows up this upcoming season.
Look into a low-cost veteran at running back. After striking out on Anderson, the Dolphins paid lip service to Jay Ajayi as a three-down back and drafted Alabama runner Kenyan Drake in the third round. That’s a better option than paying Anderson under the terms of that offer sheet. Miami could still do well, though, to add a free agent making something close to the minimum for depth purposes. Even an option like oft-injured Ahmad Bradshaw would be useful to have in the mix as the Fins enter training camp.
What went right
‘Scar’ is back. After two years of inconsistent-at-best play from their offensive line, the Patriots went back to the well and convinced legendary line coach Dante Scarnecchia to return to the fold. He should represent a comfortable upgrade over deposed coach Dave DeGuglielmo — one much-needed given the question marks surrounding many of the pieces on New England’s line.
They leveraged their success and culture into veterans at a fraction of their market value. All that’s to say, basically, that people want to play for the Patriots because the Patriots win. New England managed to bring Martellus Bennett, Chris Long, Nate Washington and Terrance Knighton into the fold on short-term deals. The price? Less than $ 10 million combined and swapping a fourth-round pick for a sixth-rounder in the Bennett trade with the Bears. All of those players have various warts, but the risk is low and the upside — especially for Bennett and Long — is far higher than the cost.
They continued to make smart decisions on draft day. Even without a first-round pick as a result of the Deflategate scandal and a fourth-rounder from the Bennett trade, Bill Belichick continued to manufacture draft capital by trading down with overly confident organizations. In trading down three times during the draft, the Stuart chart suggests that the Patriots sent out 12.8 points of draft capital and acquired 18.7 points in the process. That’s like trading the 30th pick in the draft for the 12th pick, or like generating the 90th pick in the draft out of thin air. Imagine what they could have done with a first-rounder.
What went wrong
Brady’s suspension was restored. It’s obviously not a personnel move, and the Patriots will be able to survive his absence, but it would be impossible to talk about what went right or wrong for the Pats this offseason without considering the Brady news.
They traded Chandler Jones. The Jones deal might end up working out for the Patriots; given that they were unlikely to be able to afford Jones as he approached free agency, they weren’t even necessarily wrong to make the trade. It still has to be disappointing for a team with a 38-year-old franchise quarterback to trade away its best pass-rusher for a disappointing guard (Jonathan Cooper) and third- and fourth-round picks.
The Pats are typically one of the best teams in the league in managing their salary cap, but they have nearly $ 10 million in dead money on the ledger this year, mostly due to releasing Jerod Mayo ($ 4.4 million) and 2014 first-rounder Dominique Easley ($ 2.9 million). Would that $ 7.3 million have been enough to lock up Jones? No. Would that extra cap space have helped? Absolutely.
They spent a lot to try and find a second wideout and might not have done so. In the interests of moving on from Brandon LaFell, the Patriots came into the market looking for a wide receiver during one of the worst markets in recent memory. After reportedly being outbid for Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, the Patriots eventually settled on Bills third wideout Chris Hogan, who has averaged 39 catches for 438 yards and three touchdowns over the past two years in Buffalo. Hogan isn’t without his merits, but the Patriots are giving him what amounts to a two-year, $ 8.5 million deal with $ 7.5 million guaranteed. As receiving prospects of the Belichick era go, he seems closer to LaFell or Donald Hayes than he does Wes Welker.
Lock up their star defenders. After trading Chandler Jones, the Patriots were left with three critical pieces of their defensive core entering the final years of their respective deals. Malcolm Butler will be a restricted free agent, which should make it relatively easy for the Patriots to retain him for the 2017 season. His low price tag in 2016 ($ 600,000) might also give the Patriots leverage in negotiating a long-term deal.
It’ll be tougher to lock up linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins, who are the centerpieces of Belichick’s current defense. Trading Jones was designed to free up future cap space to keep those players in town; with both linebackers set to hit unrestricted free agency next year, the Pats will want to lock them both up before the calendar reads 2017. And this all is without considering that Long, Knighton, Jabaal Sheard, Rob Ninkovich, Logan Ryan and Alan Branch will all be free agents this offseason.
What went right
They didn’t acquiesce to Ryan Fitzpatrick‘s demands. As badly as the Jets need a quarterback (and we’ll get to that in a minute), it was never going to be a good idea to give a journeyman like Fitzpatrick an eight-figure salary after a career year at 33.
The Jets need Fitzpatrick, but Fitzpatrick also needs Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker and (in particular) offensive coordinator Chan Gailey to reproduce those numbers. There’s a middle ground where a deal makes sense for both sides, but despite Fitzpatrick’s public posturing, it’s closer to the Jets’ number than the one he might be looking for.
What went wrong
They still don’t have a quarterback. Well, that sure wasn’t a long list of things that went right. As much as the Jets shouldn’t give in to what Fitzpatrick wants, they haven’t been able to convince him to lower his demands and come back to town. In the meantime, the Jets lost out on Brian Hoyer, a comparable quarterback to Fitzpatrick who just signed a one-year, $ 2 million deal with the Bears.
The move they did make seems ill-fated. Christian Hackenberg is the exact sort of quarterback who teams overrate: a passer with prototypical size and arm strength who struggled with accuracy in college. As much as teams will point to his freshman tape with Bill O’Brien and Allen Robinson in town and suggest that Hackenberg was on pace to be a possible No. 1 pick, we now have twice as much evidence from the ensuing two seasons that he isn’t a great quarterback.
The Jets might be able to turn him around if they give him the reps and he gets the sort of coaching he needs, but it’s hard to think of a quarterback this inaccurate who has succeeded as an NFL passer in recent years.
They didn’t solve the Muhammad Wilkerson problem. Despite hopes that they might be able to finagle a discount after their star defensive end broke his leg at the end of the season, the Jets franchised Wilkerson and haven’t locked him up on a long-term extension. Despite suggestions that they would look to trade Wilkerson, no deal ever materialized. Wilkerson’s $ 15.7 million cap hold has prevented the Jets from doing more in free agency, and with an even more untenable $ 18.8 million franchise tag looming for Wilkerson in 2017, it’s hard to see Wilkerson sticking around past this year.
They used most of the money they had on … running backs? With Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell forming a productive one-two punch at running back last year, Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan could have looked at his dangerous duo and remembered how cheaply they were acquired. Granted, they both arrived in town before Maccagnan, but Powell was a fourth-round pick and Ivory was acquired for a pick in the same round. Even in 2015, their combined cap hit was less than $ 5 million. That’s a smart way to put together a running back duo.
Maccagnan couldn’t afford to bring back Ivory, but let’s give him credit for being smart enough to stay out of the running when the Jaguars offered the bruising back a five-year, $ 32 million deal. Ivory is talented, but he’s best in a two-down role and has the sort of running style and body type that tends to age poorly. Ivory was a risk the Jets are better off not taking, given their cap situation.
The choices they made, though, seem ill-advised. Matt Forte does have the sort of running style and skill set that age well, but that aging might have already happened. Forte is already on the wrong side of 30, has more than 2,000 carries on his body and the Bears let him leave in free agency when they had more than $ 50 million in cap room and easily could have chosen to retain their longtime starter.
Forte’s rushing average has dropped to an even 4 yards per carry over the past two years, down from 4.6 yards per attempt over the previous four-year span, while his role as a receiver declined dramatically. His three-year, $ 12 million deal might work out, but there’s chance the Jets just gave $ 5 million guaranteed to a running back who ends being replacement-level next year.
Forte would make sense as the veteran receiving end of a platoon, similar to the role that somebody like … well, Bilal Powell played for the Jets last year. The only problem is that the Jets re-signed Powell, too, giving him a three-year, $ 11.3 million deal. Maccagnan kept the deal cheap in 2016 out of their desperate financial straits, but the Jets will pay Forte and Powell nearly $ 10 million combined in cap hits the following year. They would probably be better off applying most of that money to a new deal for Wilkerson instead.
Sign Fitzpatrick. It’s the obvious move for all parties involved.