While the 2019 NFL offseason isn’t technically over, with the draft completed and most notable free agents being signed, we have a good idea of what every team’s roster will look like when training camp starts in late July.
As anyone who follows sports knows, it’s always risky to rank teams’ offseason moves before anyone has played a single game. No matter how good something looks on paper, some moves are inevitably going to disappoint for various reasons. The purpose of this list isn’t to predict all of these moves working out, but rather to compliment teams that made smart moves that should set them up for success. If something doesn’t work out, so be it. Not everything should be judged from hindsight is 20/20 perspective if the move made sense when it initially happened.
4) New England Patriots
Per the usual, the defending Super Bowl champions didn’t make a lot of noise in the spring. Headlines came mostly from the players they lost as Rob Gronkowski retired, top pass rusher Trey Flowers rejoined his old defensive coordinator Matt Patricia in Detroit and for the second straight season, the Pats lost their starting left tackle as Trent Brown signed a big contract with the Oakland Raiders.
What makes this offseason successful for New England is that they followed the same formula they’ve used throughout their dynasty. The players they did resign are back on favorable deals that won’t haunt their cap for years to come and they were still able to bring in talent without breaking the bank.
One of the biggest takeaways from the Pats run has been how they construct their defense. Unlike the majority of NFL teams that make pass rush their top priority, New England has consistently invested in the secondary instead of paying players like Flowers or Chandler Jones. They repeated the strategy this year by retaining corner Jason McCourty and keeping their championship secondary intact.
The Patriots did also make key moves to improve up front. They traded for former Seahawks and Eagles star Michael Bennett and reuniting with outside linebacker Jamie Collins, who was released by the Browns in March. Both players may not be as game-changing as in years past, but they’ll add value to New England’s defensive rotation.
Offensively though, there are still some concerns for the Patriots receiving corps. Josh Gordon’s eligibility to play in 2019 is in serious question and they weren’t able to land free agent tight end Jared Cook as a replacement for Gronk. Possibly their biggest addition was signing former Pro Bowl receiver Demaryius Thomas to a one-year deal. Thomas’ play has been in decline the past few seasons and he’s coming off a torn Achilles, which is typically a difficult injury for receivers to fully recover from, especially if they’re over 30-years-old.
But, as we’ve seen throughout the years, New England will find a way to be efficient on offense regardless of their personnel. Their most impactful offseason move was being able to hang on to offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, and with him, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady all returning in 2019, the Patriots will once again be a lock to make the AFC Championship and enter the season as favorites to win the Super Bowl.
3) Baltimore Ravens
While most teams spent their spring attempting to reconfigure their offenses to resemble the dynamic passing attacks of the Rams and the Chiefs, Baltimore went in the complete opposite direction by building a run-heavy unit that better compliments second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Despite being exposed a bit in their Wildcard loss to the LA Chargers, the Ravens’ reliance on a strong rushing game lead to them winning their first division title since 2012 and helped Jackson go 6-1 as a starter after replacing Joe Flacco. Jackson’s ability to beat teams with his arm is still a question and he’s going to have to prove he’s capable of doing so for the Ravens to have consistent success on offense, but building a strong backfield and utilizing play action should give him easier throws as he continues to develop.
The biggest move Baltimore made on offense was signing former Saints running back Mark Ingram. Injuries, suspensions, and playing on the same team as Alvin Kamara limited Ingram’s production in New Orleans, but with the Ravens, he’ll be given the opportunity to prove he’s still one of the most talented backs in the league. With Jackson’s ability to run and a deep running back room with Ingram, Gus Edwards and rookie Justice Hill, Baltimore has a surplus of players who can carry the rock.
Since winning the Super Bowl in 2012, the Ravens have struggled to find talented receivers. To avoid the same situation in 2019, Baltimore invested heavily in the position by selecting Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin in the draft. The Ravens already have veteran talent at the position and now adding the game-changing speed that Brown and Boykin present gives Jackson a solid group to work with.
Now, if a run-heavy offensive scheme is going to work in today’s NFL, the Ravens must continue to play defense at a high level. In 2018, Baltimore boasted Football Outsiders third most efficient pass defense and sixth run defense, and despite losing Eric Weddle and franchise legend Terrell Suggs, that excellence should continue. Their divisional rival Cleveland Browns made the biggest move of the offseason by trading for Odell Beckham, but the Ravens counted that by signing future Hall of Famer Earl Thomas. Thomas’ age and injury history come with risk but when he’s healthy he’ll join Marlon Humphrey, Tony Jefferson, Brandon Carr and Jimmy Smith in a secondary that can match up with any offense in the league.
It’s a fair question if the Ravens offensive strategy will be effective, specifically in the playoffs, but their experiment is going to be fascinating to watch and they’ve built a roster that should give them the best chance to reach their ceiling.
2) Philadelphia Eagles
Over the past four years, the Eagles have been as successful as anyone when it comes to acquiring talent. Free agent signings, in particular, have been one of their strengths and this offseason proved no different. Philly was able to retain two of their key free agents in Ronald Darby and Brandon Graham, while also reuniting with Vinny Curry and DeSean Jackson who have both played for the Eagles in the past before signing big deals with other teams.
Since Doug Peterson was hired as head coach in 2016, Philadelphia has always had a strong defensive line rotation, and that trend will continue after signing former Broncos and Jaguars defensive tackle Malik Jackson, to a three-year contract. Jackson has been one of the most productive players at his position over the past four seasons and now he’s teaming up with Graham, Curry, and Fletcher Cox to form one of the best defensive fronts in football.
Along with dealing for DeSean Jackson, the Eagles improved offensively by trading with the Chicago Bears for running back Jordan Howard. Considering that Howard is in the final year of his rookie contract, he’ll likely only be in Philly for one season, but the trade should prove to be beneficial for both sides as Howard gives the Eagles a dynamic runner and Philly should give him a hefty workload that will help him earn more cash in free agency in 2020.
Since drafting Carson Wentz in 2016, Philadelphia has followed the Seahawks model of building the most stacked roster possible while their franchise QB is still on his rookie deal. This is one of the last seasons that the Eagles can take advantage of Wentz’s team-friendly salary before his contract extension kicks in 2021, and it appears they’ve made the most of it. This strategy already helped Philly win one Super Bowl and they’ll likely be in the running to win another in 2019.
1) Cleveland Browns
There should be no surprises here as no team made a bigger splash in the offseason than John Dorsey and the Cleveland Browns. Obviously, the biggest acquisition was trading for Pro Bowl receiver Odell Beckham, who will lead a dynamic receiving group with tight end David Njoku and Beckham’s former LSU teammate Jarvis Landry.
Now all that said, even the biggest Beckham supporters would admit there are some risks with trading from him and his large contract, but with a quality quarterback throwing him the ball, Beckham will likely be utilized as the elite playmaker he’s proven to be. Quarterback Baker Mayfield proved to be worthy of being last year’s first overall pick, and with a revamped receiving corps and 13 starts under his belt, he should continue to develop into a franchise passer.
The Browns also made an effort to improve defensively by adding Sheldon Richardson and Olivier Vernon to a defensive line that already featured Myles Garrett. Cleveland should also see an improvement in their secondary after signing veteran defensive back Morgan Burnett and stealing cornerback Greedy Williams in the seconded round of the draft. Denzel Ward had a promising rookie year for the Browns in 2018, and he should improve this season with a better defensive unit around him.
While controversial, we can’t ignore the signing of running back Kareem Hunt. It’s debatable if he deserves a second chance in the NFL, but there’s no doubt he’s going to make an impact on the field when he returns from his eight-game suspension. Once’s he’s back, Hunt will slot into one the league’s best backfields with Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson (barring a trade.)
The only real question surrounding Cleveland is if hiring Freddie Kitchens as head coach is the right decision. Kitchens was the obvious choice for the job after improving the offense when he took over the offensive coordinator position midway through last season, but now he’ll be tasked with coaching an entire team that has lofty expectations.
So, these are the four teams I think have had the best offseasons so far. Who do you think had the best offseason? Let us know on Twitter.