The Implications of Covid 19 In The NFL

The opt-out deadline has come and gone in the NFL for players. 69 players opted out of the season (according to Fox) and therefore get a season salary of between $150,000 and $350,000. The $350,000 is for high risk players and the $150,000 are for “voluntary opt-outs” and is effectively an advancement on a future salary. Hopefully, all decisions are respected, the reasons range from high risk medical reasons to new-born children joining families. All decisions need to be respected how ever much their absence may hurt the team. Big names are not devoid from this list either.

Eddie Goldman (Bears), Ja’Wuan James (Broncos), Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (Chiefs), Damien Williams (Chiefs), Nate Solder (Giants), CJ Mosley (Jets), Michael Pierce (Vikings) and a whole lot of Patriots (Bolden, Cannon, Chung and Hightower) being the players who looked to have starting roles in their teams locked up. However, no QBs are on that list which is important. It will hopefully mean that no team has an “excuse” (if QBs can still stay healthy) and therefore whoever wins Superbowl 55 won’t have a large Asterix next to their victory. It’s a shame that 69 players will miss this year and it’s sadly likely that that number will increase throughout the season, but it is something that the sport can navigate.

To help navigate this, practise squads have proposed changes as to how the practise squads work. Firstly, the size will increase from 12 to 16 players and 6 of those players can have unlimited accrued seasons. This is to cover for Covid affected players but can (and will) be used by teams to get detailed looks at players they are interested in for future rosters. To add to this, a team can protect 4 players a week from being signed by other rosters. Allowing the most valuable practise squad players to stay with the team. Therefore, I expect next years rosters to be full of talent with the amount of players the teams will get to rate this year due to the practise squads. Other changes include being able to promote a practise squad member to the active roster 90 minutes before a game and that unlimited number of players can return from IR after 3 weeks. This allows for more player changes throughout the year, however, will it be used for matchup purposes rather than health reasons?

All of this is why I expect the teams with the most experience staff to have a mid-season surge as they are able to work out loopholes in the rules to benefit their team from more than a health perspective. . Belichick, Roseman and Schneider will all get their teams (Patriots, Seahawks and Eagles respectively) into the playoffs by winning a few games they shouldn’t because they use the new rules to help their teams in ways others don’t. This is going to be a year where coaching comes to the fore.

The one worry for the NFL that can is in the immediate future is the deadline for officials to opt out. This deadline is Thursday the 13th of August. Players opting out (even 69 of them) won’t kill a season, but a few of the right officials opting out could lead to major trouble. Weather that is replacement referees (not again…please) or gaps in communication between teams and the league leading to more chaos, this may be the more important deadline for opt outs. Hopefully, the number is low.

The Jets and Seahawks Make A Splash

Seahawks Receive: Jamal Adams (S), 2022 4th Round Pick

Jets Receive: 2021 and 2022 1st Round Picks, 2021 3rd Round pick, Bradley McDougald (S)

This “splash” trade of the late offseason is a rare trade that seems to be at least not detrimental to either team. A 2022 4th round pick is around the value that McDougald is worth. A 29-year-old improving safety who’s started 39 games over the last 3 seasons for the Seahawks. He has learned from an organisation who created the “Legion of Boom” and has had the chance to play alongside both Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. This has rewarded McDougald with ever improving play, as he has got 5 of his 10 career interceptions over the last 2 seasons. He is not one of the best in the game, unlike Adams, but he is a good player who will be capable of holding the Jets defence together for the next few seasons before they hope to find a less outspoken version of Adams.

Therefore, the Seahawks essentially gave up two firsts and a 2021 3rd round pick for Adams services. THIS IS A LOT! Especially for a non-QB who has displayed that he will not hold back in criticizing his own team. However, some would argue that Adams’ opinions on the Jets organisation, especially Adam Gase, are not wrong and a competent organisation like the Seahawks will be one Adams will be more comfortable in. Here, Adams will play alongside ex-Lion Quandre Diggs and the last of the Legion of Boom in Bobby Wagner. This is added to with a great corner in Shaquill Griffin. Adams won’t have many complaints about the coaching staff either, head coach Pete Carroll is far superior to Adam Gase and has a Superbowl ring to prove it. To further the argument for Seattle, Adams’ 6.5 sacks would have led the Seahawks last year by 2.5 sacks. That’s pretty incredible for a safety (and incredible that Rasheem Green’s 4 sacks led the Seahawks). Adams also has the ability to cover tight ends and with George Kittle being on the fixture list twice a year, that ability is coveted by the Seahawks.

For a team that is already playoff bound, having a true game changer added on defence is likely what can put them over the top and make them Superbowl bound. This is also important in terms of the draft capital they have given up. A team this good (especially with Adams) is likely to be drafted at best in the mid-to-late 20s. A first round pick of the Seahawks isn’t as valuable as one from the Jaguars for example. To add to this, the Seahawks 1st round picks of late have been underwhelming unlike their late round picks. As Schneider seems to draft in reverse to the other 31 teams (only the Patriots have the same kind of results) a 1st round pick may not be viewed as valuably as from other organisations.  Even though the Seahawks gave up a lot, there is a large possibility that it’s a good trade for them.

The Jets get two first rounders to use in their rebuilding. Adams wanted a massive extension and there is no way he would have received this with the Jets. Therefore, they would have had one year of Adams before he hit free agency and a disgruntled Adams at that. Therefore, trading him now was the only option, especially as the Jets are still a few years from truly challenging whilst they wait for Darnold to develop. However, it will be difficult for the Jets to find even one player of Adams’ calibre with picks in the late 20s but it is possible. The trade can work out for both teams, the Seahawks immediately whilst the Jets could see a large return in the future. It will be a while before we can judge “a winner” but right now it seems both teams will benefit, even if the price was a little high for the Seahawks.

The Tagged Players For 2020

This year, there are 15 players that have been franchise tagged (Kenyan Drake was transition tagged by the Cardinals but included within the 15). In a year like this, the franchise tag is likely a better option than most years due to the uncertainty of the cap for this season and possibly even next season. An extra year to gain information about how the league will adapt and an extra year to negotiate a contract with the players are both great reasons to tag a player. This has been seen with 15 players tagged whilst just 6 were tagged last year and 5 the season before (Chris Jones and Derrick Henry have since signed a long-term deal with the Chiefs and Titans respectively).

Arizona Cardinals – Kenyan Drake RB ($8,483,000)

Drake was transition tagged by the Cardinals which guarantees them the right of first refusal to match any offer the player may make with another team. Drake was electric last year once he was traded from the Dolphins to the Cardinals. After averaging only 3.7 yds/carry on 47 attempts and 0TDs with the Dolphins, Drake exploded for 8TDs whilst averaging 5.2 yds/carry on 123 attempts. This allows the Cardinals to see if Drake can continue this impressive pace, at 26, he’s young enough to be given a multi-year contract. Running backs are usually replaceable so one more year of Drake before finding a new starter next year isn’t a bad idea, if Eno Benjamin can be as electric at RB as he will be when returning kicks, then he could be the replacement.

Baltimore Ravens – Matthew Judon OLB ($16,808,000)

Over the last 4 years, Judon made just $3,900,736 whilst returning 28.5 sacks. Now he will make over 4 times that in just one year. To add to this, he’s coming off a career high 9.5 sack season leading to a pro bowl nod. He is a perfect fit in the Ravens scheme and can lead a very young LB core with the draft additions of Queen and Harrison. There is no doubt that Judon will get a big payday next offseason from another team, and after listening to Bootleg Football (highly recommended) the Colts are a good bet to land him if he doesn’t resign with the Ravens. Something which is likely considering the upcoming negotiations with Lamar Jackson and Ronnie Stanley who will likely take priority.

Cincinnati Bengals – AJ Green WR ($17,865,00)

This is likely the last year Green spends in a Bengals uniform and I would not be surprised to see him traded before the season starts. He was a popular deadline day trade pick last season and the same could be this year. Keep him through camp to help teach rookies Joe Burrow and Tee Higgins as well as help continue the development of Tyler Boyd before trading Green to recoup what they can. The Patriots, Jets and 49ers are potential landing spots. Patriots and 49ers looking for a spark to help them dive further into the postseason and the Jets looking for a veteran to develop the young inconsistent QB, Sam Darnold.

Dallas Cowboys – Dak Prescott QB ($31,409,000)

By far the most controversial tag of the year, Prescott is the only QB to be tagged. Prescott is a good QB if not great. His stats put him in the top tier of QBs, 4902yds, 30TDs:11INTs and a 99.7 rating. However, the output of point and wins is disappointing for a QB surrounded by such a strong supporting cast. The tag gives new coach Mike McCarthy and the rest of the new regime a chance to assess him before committing to a player at the most important position in the NFL.

Denver Broncos – Justin Simmons FS ($11,441,000)

Simmons has been steady throughout his career which is no bad thing. Having a reliable player at the safety position is important, he can stop any large gains down the field and can turn a game around with 4 INTs and 15 pass breakups last year. Elway is waiting for a season where Simmons becomes a game changer or to see if he can become a “star” rather than “very good”. A second year in Vic Fangio’s system and playing alongside Kareem Jackson will give him a good chance, I reckon he’ll be signed long term before next year’s free agency, he’ll have that breakout year.

Jacksonville Jaguars – Yannick Ngakoue DE ($17,788,000)

The Ngakoue saga continues. After having a rather public argument with the team owner’s son (Tony Khan), Ngakoue is still trying to be traded. As the Jags waited till after the draft to potentially trade him, his value has decreased. The Jags wanted a first round pick, they will likely get a 3rd at the trade deadline this year. My expectation is Ngakoue opts out of the year (Covid 19 being a convenient excuse) before opting in once traded when the Jags realise, he’s leaving. A consistent over 8 sacks a year rusher, Ngakoue would collect a 3rd round compensatory pick for the Jags, but the Jags will trade him to move up a few spots. They are in the depths of a rebuild, they need the draft capital.

Kansas City Chiefs – Chris Jones DT (4 year – $85 million)

The first of the tagged players to be turned into a long-term deal. Jones said he wouldn’t player for less than $20 million a year. It seemed unlikely then that he would stay in Kansas City but due to a low cap hit for 4 years on the Mahomes deal, this remind possible. This is result of Mahomes player a team game with his contract rather than go for full market value, a top tier interior pass rusher who’d one-season removed from a 15.5 sack season. Mahomes made this possible and the Chiefs stay strong for the future.

Los Angeles Chargers – Hunter Henry TE ($10,607,000)

Hunter Henry’s output does not match his potential. This isn’t helped by injuries; he missed the entire 2018 season. The tag will allow the Chargers to have one more year to see if Henry becomes an elite tight end or another OJ Howard. However, with either Tyrod Taylor or rookie Justin Herbert at QB, I don’t expect Henry’s stats to improve, however, a rookie QBs best friend is a good TE.

Minnesota Vikings – Anthony Harris FS ($11,441,000)

Harris is coming off a career year with a league leading 6 INTs. Playing in a division with Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford (sorry Bears fans) great DBs are needed and Harris has become one. Alongside Harrison Smith, the Vikings have one of the best safety duos in the league. Add this with promising rookie Jeff Gladney at CB and this defence is returning to dominance.

New England Patriots – Joe Thuney G ($14,781,000)

One of the best guards in the game, Thuney looks like he will become the next victim of Belichick’s strict contract outlook. The Patriots and Thuney are reportedly not close to a deal. However, this year was important to keep Thuney, hence the franchise tag. Dante Scarnecchia left and the Patriots have a new generation of O-Lineman in Isaiah Wynn, Hjalte Froholdt and Yodny Cajuste as well as this year’s rookies. They will need Thuney’s leadership in this post Brady era. He has started games at tackle, guard and centre for the Patriots, he is invaluable – but Belichick will let him go next year and replace him with a guy nobody’s heard of.

New York Giants – Leonard Williams DE ($16,126,000)

After the Giants traded a 3rd and 4th for the former sixth overall pick, they were hoping to have stolen a great pass rusher from their city rivals. However, a disappointment is an understatement. Never a factor with only 0.5 sacks and 2 tackles for loss, he seems a bust. A bust getting paid $16,126,000 is not a good look for a struggling team at the moment. This franchise tag is likely money down the drain and no team will trade for him with the tag value on him. At least Gettleman is capable of making Bill O’Brien look competent.

Pittsburgh Steelers – Bud Dupree LB ($15,828,000)

Alongside Devin Bush (inside) and TJ Watt, the line backers of the Steelers are quite amazing. They are the core of this top 5 defence. However, the tag value may increase if Dupree wins a grievance case to be registered as a DE and not a LB, it leads to more money. Dupree’s speed and refusal to slow is deadly. Not just demolishing QBs but also stuffing runs, especially successful when playing against counters. The Steelers should do all they can to retain Dupree, defence wins championships.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Shaq Barrett LB ($15,828,000)

Probably the most predictable of all these tags, Barrett will have to produce again for a long-term deal. It is no surprise that a rusher who recorded 14 sacks in 4 years, leaves and joins a second team and explodes for a league leading 19.5 sacks, gets tagged. Barrett has got to prove he’s not a one-year wonder. The speed that he can carry on his rushes is ridiculous and his fluid movement will beat any rookie or unathletic tackle. I predict a regression to around the 10-sack mark, but 10 sacks also gets paid in the NFL.

Tennessee Titans – Derrick Henry RB (4-year $50 million)

Tagging the human wrecking ball was a great idea from the Titans, load up for one more year before replacing Henry, you should rarely give a RB a second contract. This is also the case for Henry. People point to his speed and power, he’s unique. However, he looks for contact, a physical runner. These types of runners slow down quicker than shiftier backs. Therefore, the Titans should have tagged him and run him into the ground on route to a Superbowl and then let him go, even if it would be a year too early. However, they signed him for 4 years which seems like a mistake. They are tied in too long. However, after 2 years, they can move on from Henry with only $6 million of dead cap. This is perfect for the Titans; they have Henry throughout his prime and do not have only a single season to find a replacement. Love this deal from the Titans view.

Washington (INSERT NAME HERE) – Brandon Scherff G ($15,030,000)

Scherff is one of the few bright spots for Washington over the past years. A pro bowl right guard he has been keeping the QB safe from the right side of the pocket for years. Sadly, the O-Line is 5 strong and Scherff can’t play every spot. This is why he is desperately needed, the current starting left tackle is Cornelius Lucas, not good for the starting QB. Even worse news is that the team and Scherff were reportedly far away on contract talks, however, he has expressed interest to stay in Washington. A regime change with new head coach Ron Rivera could keep Scherff around for the future. Good guards are hard to find. Consistent pro bowl guards like Scherff are almost impossible – he needs a long-term deal.

The First Half A Billion Dollar Contract

Mr Mahomes is a very rich man. According to nfl.com, the extension is worth up to $503 million over 10 years with $477 million in guarantee mechanisms. This means that Mahomes will be 36 once the contract ends and the richest player in all American sports. This is the first time an NFL player has the richest contract throughout American sports. Kansas City has their QB locked up for many years to come.

This easily exceeds Russell Wilson’s 4-year $140 million contract for highest average salary. This means that the two best QBs in the league are paid exactly like who they are – the best. Both of which have full no trade deals in their contracts. I expect to see a Chiefs vs Seahawks Superbowl more than once over the next few years. Large contracts like this, however, are not necessarily a good move.

With a cap hit of $42.450 million in 2023, a cap hit that falls slightly before rising again, Mahomes will eat up a large percent of the salary cap. Whilst the QB is the most important position, overpaying at the position can be deadly for a teams Superbowl aspirations. Over the past 27 seasons only 3 teams have won the Superbowl with a QB salary at more than 12% cap hit (S.Young 1994, P.Manning 2016 and T.Brady 2019). Teams need to be deep at other positions. Constant injuries require backups to come to the for (including at the QB position). That is why Brady and Brees have continually taking less than market value so the rest of their team can be of a high standard, just look at the defence that Belichick created for the Patriots over the last two seasons, leading to a Superbowl. Mahomes also missed a few games last year due to injury and you don’t want to be paying a player that’s not on the field. However, that injury was an injury aggravated by a QB sneak where his ankle was crushed. Mahomes is also good at sliding when he runs out the pocket. He does sometimes hang on to the ball too long and get pummelled by a D-Lineman. This also leads to the odd bad throw just like one of his interceptions in the Superbowl (he shouldn’t have won MVP, same issue as when Brady won MVP in Superbowl 51). But there is something different with Mahomes.

Paying a QB is a dangerous game but not having a good won is worse … so much worse (just ask the Bears and Jags). Mahomes has propelled the Chiefs to an AFC Championship game and following that up with winning the Superbowl this past year. Mahomes is one of the best QBs in the league and therefore his talents deserve such a contract. Whilst it will mean that Chris Jones won’t get his $20 million per year in Kansas, Mahomes should be able to keep the Chiefs a title contender. Don’t forget that Andy Reid is contracted till 2023 and with a talent like Mahomes, he will want to be coaching for many years to come to add to his Superbowl ring collection (currently only 1). Reid and Mahomes for many years is devastating to the rest of the NFL. It coincides with the rise of John Harbaugh and Lamar Jackson, as well as Deshaun Watson and whoever replaces O’Brien after this year. The AFC looks competitive again and in the short-term, the Chiefs still have flexibility.

The cap hit for the next two years for Mahomes are $24.8 million and $31.4 million (according to sportrac.com). This allows the Chiefs to pay others short-term, before they have to dilute their roster to stay under the cap. Add this to the ever-increasing cap. Whilst the cap may decrease over the next few years due to the current unknowns of the sports world, it will only increase. We’ve seen how the monster Kirk Cousins contract looks average now; just imagine how Mahomes’ contract will look in 10 years – a bargain. Saying that, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a negotiation before the 2027 season, not only due to the potential bargain contract but also because of a large rise in cap hit on that year: $59.9 million. This deal is great for the Chiefs, he deserves it and although it seems large as of now, it won’t in years to come. All he needs to do is maintain his current level of play.

NFC West Offseason Grades

The final division is finally here. It’s a division I expect to be 3 strong in the playoffs this year. Therefore, their draft and free agency may be the difference between picking in the 20s come April and playing in the Superbowl.

Arizona Cardinals (A-)

Jordan Phillips had a breakout year with 9.5 sacks with the Bills. Therefore, a 3-year deal may be misguided but Phillips was signed on the bases of the Cardinals getting bigger on the D-Line whilst having athletic LBs flying from sideline to sideline. The 324lbs NT Phillips will also help the development of Fotu, the 335lbs rookie. Devon Kennard adds even further to the pass rush of the Cardinals, he will probably only be used in spells, but that will likely benefit him as he isn’t consistent in pass coverage. Kennard either needs to be in a blitz heavy scheme or have a top tier pass rusher on the other side, hello Chandler Jones. Campbell is a veteran tackling machine who will help down the strong running games of the 49ers and Rams in division. A one-year contract is an especially good idea. A decent free agency, signing a great interior O-Lineman would have improved it (like getting Connor McGovern to help protect Kyler Murray over current centre Mason Cole).

The draft was a great success. Getting the incredibly versatile Isaiah Simmons who gets to learn from Chandler Jones, Bubba Baker and Jordan Hicks at his LB/Safety hybrid position. Then their second-round pick was the best WR is football … DeAndre Hopkins. The steal of the decade. Now Murray can throw to Hopkins, Fitzgerald, Kirk, Isabella and don’t forget the above average catching skills of Kenyan Drake. Kingsbury’s air raid offense will take off this year. In the third, they grabbed the falling Josh Jones to protect Murray. Fotu and Lawrence are monsters on the D-Line. Lawrence has the pedigree of LSU but an injury history. Fotu has 335lbs of muscle and will eat up interior rushing games along with Phillips, they can help make holes for Campbell. Evan Weaver was Pac-12 defensive player of the year who’s instincts and understanding of the game will lead to him being a vital player in the future. Benjamin in a high ceiling flyer in the 7th who can take over from Drake is injury strikes.

Los Angeles Rams (B)

The Rams continue along the downward slope from losing Superbowl 53. Losing Fowler Jr isn’t the end of the world with the $15 million per year being put to better use. Brockers seemed to take a below market price deal to stay in LA which still leaves the Rams with a fearsome D-Line. Resigning Littleton was a good move, but he will have to play linebacker essentially by himself with the depth at that position non-existent. Extending Whitworth is a little worrying as the out is after 2 years, not 1. He is past his prime and makes his decision on retirement yearly. Losing Gurley isn’t worrying but the biggest loss may be Greg “The Leg” Zuerlein. Quality kickers are difficult to find and Zuerlein (despite some issues last year). Now they’ll just need to settle the payment disputes with Clay Matthews and others.

Cam Akers was a great pick in the second round. He had no help from his O-Line at Florida State but looked slick at the combine, easily catching the ball and with a sharp change of direction; he can step into Gurley’s shoes once he beats out Brown and Henderson. Jefferson is faster than many see, saving his speed for the pitch rather than a 40-yard dash. He is a great route runner as well so for a 3rd round pick, he was a good choice. Lewis needs to not get injured and he won’t be starting for a few seasons, he’s very raw. Burgess is the next defensive back out of Utah that can quietly become a starter in the NFL. For now, he gets to learn from Rapp and Johnson. His special teams value is high and makes up for some slight doubts in man coverage. Brycen Hopkins will be able to push Everett and Higbee, one of them will likely be traded before the season or at the trade deadline. Sam Sloman will have to replace Greg “The Leg” Zuerlein so a lot of pressure on his young shoulders.

San Francisco 49ers (B+)

The defending NFC champions were tasked with having to replace losses. These losses were mainly Deforest Buckner and Emmanuel Sanders. Buckner is one of the best DTs in the NFL and whilst he leaves a big hole behind, moving him for a first round pick when they wouldn’t be able to resign him next year was a good move. However, I would have signed him over Armstead so we’ll see if Buckner shines in Indy and if Armstead stops improving in San Francisco. While the defence is still going to be good without Buckner, the offense will be greatly affected by the loss of Sanders. The difference in Garoppolo’s game with/without Sanders was ridiculous. Garoppolo passed for an average of 232.6yds per game without Sanders (excluding the Washington game, the weather meant he would never throw for a lot of yardage), once Sanders turned up at week 8, Garoppolo threw for 266.4yds per game (excluding playoffs). Kittle is still the best tight end in the league and Deebo Samuel will only improve, but Sandres was a key part of the offense and Garoppolo needs a supporting cast. If Jason Verrett can keep healthy, he’ll be a steal but that is a big IF for him.

The draft was in the quality over quantity group. Kinlaw will regularly wins with a bull rush and is very quick for a man of his size 6ft 5in, 315lbs. He will be immediately tasked with replacing Buckner, he won’t be able to do this his rookie season but with Bosa and Armstead at the edges, Kinlaw should see double teams rarely. His small flaws are coachable, like losing his balance whilst trying to gain penetration to the pocket. Second of the 49ers first round picks, Brandon Aiyuk, is the Sanders replacement. He has a ridiculous wingspan (one of a 6ft 8in person yet he is only 6ft). Aiyuk won’t be dropping passes and he is likely better than his former teammate N’Keal Harry. Shannahan reportedly had him as the NO.1 WR on his board and they got him at pick 25, if the 49ers are to return to the Superbowl, Aiyuk will need to have an impact like Sanders did last year. Woerner and Jennigns will be fighting for roster spots.

Seattle Seahawks (C+)

If there are two teams that these rankings mean literally nothing for, it would be the Patriots and the Seahawks. Their drafts don’t look great, their free agent signings look shallow, but the teams are good every year. And this year will be no different. There O-Line went from average to flat out bad this year with the losses of Fant, Flucker and Ifedi. BJ Finney and Brandon Shell help but are not top tier talents. Wilson will be running for his life again, but he is a rare talent which can survive such a challenge. Losing Quinton Jefferson shouldn’t hurt the defence too much and Bruce Irvin will help bring leadership to this suddenly young defence. Olsen will do the same on the offensive side of the ball and will provide Wilson for a tight end if Dissly can’t stay healthy. Hyde adds to the rotation at running back and will be a big help if the injuries strike the position yet again.

Jordyn Brooks was never considered a round 1 talent, but he was selected at the end of the first round. He will instantly be starting in the Seattle defence. The good news is he will be trained up by Bobby Wagner, the best middle linebacker in the league. Brooks is a great run stopper which will help in a division with the 49ers rushing attack and QB Jared Goff forcing the Rams to be run heavy. However, he really struggles in zone coverage. Taylor is an edge rusher who flashes but is rarely consistent for a game at getting penetration into the backfield. He will be a 4-6 sacks a season guy. Damien Lewis is the jewel of the draft class, a great guard who will be starting by mid-season. Look for Wilson to be more comfortable in the pocket once Lewis Starts, early on he’ll be a backup, however. Colby Parkinson enters one of the best places in the NFL. He learns from Greg Olsen and is being thrown to by Russell Wilson, he has no excuses in the future, but this year he will hardly see the field. Deejay Dallas is a power runner, another player in a strong stable of running backs. Robinson is limited in his pass rush skills but is effective at what he does. He should get odd pressure but won’t be consistent.

Mr Belichick, meet Mr Newton

Just when I was about to finish the offseason grades for the last division (NFC West), the Patriots went and signed Cam Newton on a one-year deal. Much of the deal is wrapped up in incentives that can reach up to $7.5 million. Whilst Newton is by far and away the best QB that was left on the market, this was not a deal that I expected.

When Brady left for Tampa Bay (I refuse to give in to “Tompa Bay”), I was fully behind the idea that Jarrett Stidham would be the starter in 2020. There was never a point to signing Dalton as the difference in class would be outweighed by the price of signing, which would dent the ridiculously deep rotation that Belichick is creating for that defence. Drafting a QB was pretty much out of the question, Tua and Burrow would never fall to the Patriots range, and any other QB would be a project or just as good as Stidham, therefore making drafting a QB a suspect proposition. So that left Newton as the only possible signing (they did sign Brian Hoyer but he is essentially a QB coach to Stidham).

However, I never expected the signing to happen and not just because of the Patriot’s current cap situation. A few months ago, ex-Raven scout Daniel Jeremiah unearthed Bill Belichick’s scouting instructions to his scouts when he was coaching the Cleveland Browns. Here, Belichick lays out what he is looking for in a QB1. His instructions include “Accurate rather than a guy with a cannon” and “emphasis on our game will be on decision, timing, accuracy.” These are all things that describe the play of one Tom Brady. No need for mobility and moving methodically down the field without mistakes. This is also why I assumed that Stidham was a good bet to have the chance to be the next Patriots QB (he still does but not as large of a chance) as he showed in his preseason games that he can lead an offense based on these concepts. To add to this, he had surprising mobility which can lea    d to him making a few more plays with his feat than Brady, it wouldn’t take Stidham almost 20 years to get 1000yds rushing. It is also why I never expected Newton signed.

Newton was never an accurate QB, and his lack of competency with timing patterns held the Panthers offense back. He would often miss receivers or at the very least not consistently put the ball in a place where only the receiver can it, often using his powerful arm to bullet the football to the receiver before the defender can react. This attitude has led to 108INTs throughout his career. This is also reflected in his completion percentage which is at 59.57%, 56th in league history (per pro football reference). This is a major drop off from the standard Patriots fans are used to with Brady at 63.8% (16th all time). Whilst it can be argued that Newton has not sterling receivers with Kelvin Benjamin being the top receiver for may years in Carolina but at some point, the QB must take responsibility. Therefore, it seems that Newton is the exact opposite of what the Patriots are looking for.

However, Newton was the 2015 league MVP on route to Superbowl 50 after a 15-1 season. He was the number 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft and has been stuck in a division with the ever-dangerous Saints and Falcons. He has also thrown for 182 TDs. His rushing is ridiculously effective for a QB, rushing for 4806 yds in his career at 5.1 yds/carry. His rocket arm can make throws that Brady never could. Belichick mentioned in his scouting instructions that “leadership” is one of his important qualities of a QB1. Whilst Newton’s leadership seem to be questioned often, many teammates speak out for quite the opposite viewpoint. They have confidence in Newton, a QB who can make an incredible play on any snap. To add to this, consistency may not be vital for Newton in the Pats offense. This is a team built on defence (really, really built on defence). It’s also built around the run game with Michel, White Burkhead, Harris and Bolden, and now Newton. Maybe Belichick is trying to move with the times as QBs become more mobile, creating an extra danger to the opposing defences. Belichick also added Byrd (from the Cardinals) and Jeff Thomas (UDFA), both can stretch the filed unlike the past WR groups in New England which will allow Newton to unleash his arm. Also, there is no way Edelman is dropping anything thrown his way, no matter how much velocity is on the throw.

Maybe Belichick has pulled a great manoeuvre or maybe Newton will be cut before the season starts and Stidham does take the reins. But, no matter what happens, this is an interesting signing. If Newton is healthy after missing 14 games last year with a foot ailment, then he is a quality QB which is why CBS Sports data analyst Stephen Oh projects the Patriots wins increases from 7.8 to 9.3 with the addition of Newton. Newton could be the spark on offense which propels the Patriots back into the playoffs after their long drought of 0 seasons.

A Legend Of The Game Retires

If asked who the longest running coach (including assistants) of the Patriots was, many would probably answer Bill Belichick due to his long run as head coach since 2000 and serving as defensive coordinator and assistant head coach throughout the Bill Parcels era. But Belichick is the wrong answer. It’s not the secretive Ernie Adams either. Instead, it is a person who has been apart of the Patriots since before Robert Kraft was owner. That man is Dante Scarnecchia. Most recently acting as the teams’ offensive line coach.

He played college football at California Western University in 1966 as an O-Lineman and subsequently started his coaching career as an O-line coach at California Western University (CWU) in 1970. After moving through a few different positions and teams, he returned to CWU in 1980. This led to him following head coach Ron Meyer to the Patriots in 1992 as special teams and tight ends coach. He later joined the Colts, to be with Meyer, from 1989 to 1990 but quickly returned to the Patriots. In 1993 he was promoted to special assistant and was consistently reassigned to defensive assistant, special teams’ coach and then back to special assistant. Essentially, Scarnecchia became the coach that Parcells (and young defensive coordinator Bill Belichick) could rely on to control almost any part of the team. Over the 7-year period from 1993 to 1999 (Parcells and Pete Carroll eras), the Patriots only had 2 losing seasons and reached a Superbowl in 1997 where they lost 35-21 to the Green Bay Packers. This was a hugely successful era for the Patriots at the time, a team that had only made the playoffs 5 times since the NFL merger before 1993, made the playoffs 4 times in the 7-year period. Whilst Scarnecchia was certainly not the sole reason for the success, he was still a major part of it. Parcells left before 1997 season and Pete Carroll was replaced heading into 2000. But Scarnecchia stayed with the patriots.

In 2000, Robert kraft made a then controversial decision to hire the authoritarian former head coach of the Cleveland Brown (and familiar face to the Patriots) Bill Belichick. With that hiring, Scarnecchia was repositioned (again), but this team it was back to what he did best O-Line coach and it came with the added responsibility of being the assistant head coach. Here, Belichick could focus on building the dominant defence full of stars such as Ty Law, Teddy Bruschi and Willie McGinest whilst Scarnecchia could work on protecting then franchise QB Drew Bledsoe. When becoming the O-line coach, Scarnecchia inherited a good but not great O-Line. An ageing Bruce Armstrong at left tackle and young, inexperienced Damien Woody at centre. Entering 2001, the Patriots had boosted the O-Line by signing Mike Compton and drafting Matt Light 17th overall. With a second year, essentially rookie, QB under centre after Bledsoe’s injury (he was outside the pocket at the time so the O-Line can’t be blamed) Scarnecchia also had to deal with Damien Woody’s awful shotgun snap. Scarnecchia and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis sorted out a system where Compton would move to centre (and Woody to guard) whenever Brady was in the shotgun. This, along with the usual issues that come with an inexperienced QB led to 41 sacks. But in the playoffs, the O-Line strengthened and was seen at it’s best in the Superbowl. Brady has a sprained left ankle but was able to stay comfortable in an often-clean pocket; especially on the game winning 53-yard drive to set up Vinatieri’s 48 yard winning field goal. This growth and performance on the biggest stage was all whilst under the guide of Scarnecchia, and the Patriots won their first ever Superbowl.

Two years later, the Patriots drafted Dan Koppen in the 5th round, but he instantly became the starting centre which allowed Woody to move to left guard, a more natural position for him. The effects were seen almost immediately with Brady only being sacked 26, 26, 26, and 21 times in the 4 seasons of 04, 05, 06 and 07. This was also boosted by the addition of Logan Mankins in 2005. 2004 to 2010 also showcased one of Scarnecchia’s best coaching achievements. In 2001 they signed Steve Neal. Neal was a freestyle wrestler who did not play college football. But after 3 years learning from Scarnecchia and veteran guard Mike Compton and Neal was a starter at right guard for the Patriots between 2004 and 2010. Over this team, the Patriots went to 2 Superbowls including winning one and completing the perfect regular season on their way to the other. The Patriots consistently had a strong O-Line, with additions of first round pick Nate Solder, second round pick Sebastian Vollmer and the signing of previous undrafted free agent Dan Connolly (originally signed by the Jaguars). But in 2013, after 29 years with the Patriots, Scarnecchia retired with 3 Superbowl wins. The next year, his teaching was still in effect after holding private workouts with some of the Patriots’ O-lineman. The Pats went on to beat the Seattle Seahawks in Superbowl 49. But the next year, he was missed. In the AFC Championship game against the rival Denver Broncos, Brady was consistently pressured by Von Miller, Dereck Wolfe and DeMarcus Ware. This led to a 2-point winning margin for the Broncos (20-18) which stopped the Patriots from going to Superbowl 50. With that, Scarnecchia was talked out of retirement.

Scarnecchia returned for his third stint with the Patriots. The O-Line rebounded by only conceding 15 sacks and the Patriots went on to win Superbowl 51 against the Atlanta Falcons. Follow that, Brady won NFL MVP for the third time (2007, 2010 and 2017) behind a strong O-Line. Entering 2018 season, the Patriots O-Line was one of the best in the league despite a seemingly low pedigree. Left tackle was first year starter, 6ft 8in Trent Brown. The heaviest player currently in the NFL was acquired (along with the 143rd selection) with just the 95th overall pick from the 49ers. A former 7th round selection, he had been inconsistent but his year with the Patriots was strong and he started all 16 games at one of the most important positions on the roster. At left guard was 2016 third round selection Joe Thuney, the highest draft position of the 5 starters. He is now so valuable to the Patriots, he was franchise tagged for the 2020 season. Undrafted free agent David Andrews played at centre and was one of the best centres in the league. He has recovered from the blood clots in his lungs and will hopefully return to the Patriots starting line up in 2020 after missing the 2019 season. Right guard was Shaq Mason, 5th round pick who recently signed a 5 year $45 million contract. And finally right tackle Marcus Cannon, also a 5th round pick. No player was drafter before the 3rd round with the other 4 starters drafted on day 3 (David Andrews wasn’t drafted at all). Yet all 5 of them turned into stars, either still with the Patriots or got paid by other teams. The Patriots won Superbowl 53 that year. After the 2019 season, Scarnecchia retired (again) but it seems unlikely he will return. At 72 years old, Scarnecchia is apparently doing things in his yard and is keeping busy.

The Patriots are often seen to find talent where no other team does, Julian Edelman, Matthew Slater and Malcolm Butler being recent examples. But the Patriots also find talent in coaches, not just players. This can be seen with Scarnecchia. He coached in 10 of the Patriots 11 Superbowl appearances, winning 5 (and was closely associated with the 6th). He turned late round and undrafted talent into stars (Neal, Andrews and Mason) and utilized top tier talent to the fullest (Light, Mankins and Solder). His coaching has allowed the greatest player of all time (Tom Brady) to stay comfortable in the pocket and lead the Patriots offense for almost 20 years. When asked on Scarnecchia’s retirement, Bill Belichick responded, “It was a privilege to coach with Dante for so long,” and “I knew that long before his initial retirement and throughout a second act of continued excellence. Dante is among the very best assistant coaches ever.” That is high praise from the best coach of all-time. It was this year that one of the true legends of the game retired. May it be a long and happy one for Dante Scarnecchia.

NFC South Offseason Grades

Atlanta Falcons (C-)

The Falcons continue their fall from the top which started in the second half of Superbowl 51. They lost Austin Hooper to Cleveland, a good all-round tight end who was becoming a consistent safety blanket for Matt Ryan whenever Jones wasn’t open. Hooper had increased yearly in receptions, yards and TDs (75 rec, 787 yds and 6TDs in 2019). The Falcons replaced him with former first round pick Hayden Hurst. Hurst has talent but was severely upstaged by Mark Andrews in Baltimore. The Falcons traded a 2nd round pick for the 26 year old tight end who has only ever been a backup despite his first round pedigree. A large risk which felt like a reach to replace a player they wanted to keep around. They also lost Vic Beasley, De’Vondrae Campbell and Adrian Clayborn. All of which will leave a whole along the D-Line and outside linebacker.   The 3 of them accounted for half of the Falcons’ sacks last year (14 of 28). They did sign Dante Fowler Jr to ease the losses, but he can’t be counted on to stop the opposition’s rushing attack. Two good signings were the one year deals of Todd Gurley and Laquon Treadwell. Low risk high reward signings who can both add a spark to the Falcons offense if they can regain prior form or reach potential.

With their first-round pick, the Falcons selected AJ Terrell. A consensus second day player, he was a reach at a position of need. Inconsistent throughout college at Clemson, he is not a polished day one starter. He can get grabby and that will only be exploited at the next level. Due to the loss of Desmund Trufant in free agency, Terrell will need to be starting early to partner Isaiah Oliver. Davidson is a consistent D-Lineman who has good strengths. May be slightly to slow at the snap to worry top-tier O-Lineman but is a solid pick. Hennessy gets to sit behind Alex Mack for a year which will only help, Walker is a smart linebacker who should excel on special teams and his versatility could see him on the field for a few snaps a game, even if he’s not a full time starter. Hofrichter can battle for kicker or punter, after being declared as a kicker by the Falcons, it seems he will be battling with Koo but Ryan Allen’s job may also be in doubt if Koo wins the kicking job.

Carolina Panthers (B+)

Getting Teddy Bridgewater was a great signing. He looked near his pre-injury self when filling in for Drew Brees last year. He is also a guy that the rest of the team will play for. Everyone wants him to come back from the awful injury and a 3-year $63 million deal isn’t going to cause issue for the Panthers if he doesn’t succeed. Signing Anderson will only add weapons to a usually weak receiving core. But Moore, Anderson and Samuel (if he isn’t traded) will be a good, diverse top 3 for the Panthers. Weatherly will add experience to a very young D-Line. They are a little weak at guard but their wasn’t many options in free agency. The best decision may be letting James Bradberry walk. He is a good corner, but not worth they 3-year $43.5 million contract he got from the Giants. This does leave a weak cornerback depth chart (Eli Apple will most likely be CB2) but this team is not building for this season but instead the future.

The future D-Line for the Panthers will be ridiculous. I still think it was a mistake not selecting Simmons but it seems the Panthers weren’t confident on how to use him so selecting the monster of Brown to eat up the interior of the line was the next best option. To partner him with Gross-Matos is creating a monster for the future along with impressive second year player Brian Burns. All under 23 years old, they can all learn from Kawann Short for the next 2 years. Late in the second, the Panthers drafted Jeremy Chinn. He may struggle in man coverage, but he is a large safety with significant upside. However, it is likely he will be thrown right into the NFL level competition after playing college at Southern Illinois. Pride Jr is a corner who also has high upside. His speed has helped him recover from mistakes in college, it won’t be as helpful in the NFL though. Robinson is a great pick from a football persepective. Day 2 talent at day 3 price because of his academic fraud that left him expelled from West Virginia. He went to the XFL and now can be a useful safety for the Panthers. Roy and Thomas-Oliver are unknown quantities at their positions. Roy only had one good year and Thomas-Oliver changed from WR to CB. All the Panthers picks were on the defence after addressing offense in free agency. A good offseason for the Panthers which will pay off down the road.

New Orleans Saints (B)

Replacing Bridgewater with Winston was a great move, especially with Winston on such a cheap contract. If Brees has too miss games, Winston still gives the Saints a chance to win. Signing Jenkins to a 4-year $32 million contract is a risk at 32 years old but there is an out after 2 years. Sanders will only boost the receiving corps and forms a deadly duo with Michael Thomas. His instant impact was seen last season with the 49ers and Brees is a far superior QB to Garoppolo. Signing Andreas Peat to a 5-year $52 million contract was a great move. It locks up one of the best young guards in the game at a salary which will be kind to the team in 3 or 4 years. This led to the release of Larry Walford, but Ruiz will take his spot after being drafted. Vonn Bell left for the Bengals but the Saints have depth at both safety spots. The Saints are still a little weak at linebacker but Anzalone will only improve.

The Saints only had 4 picks in the draft this year after 3 draft day trades. They selected Ruiz in the first round. By far the best interior O-Lineman in the draft, he can start at centre and move McCoy to guard or he can replace Walford at guard. Protecting Brees is top priority entering what is likely his final season. Baun will help add spark to the LBs but his limited pass rush moves will be an issue. He doesn’t have the athletic frame to beat long tackles either. Trautmen can instantly becoming the second TE on the roster ahead of Josh Hill and behind veteran Jared Cook. Stevens is a dual threat QB to potentially replace Taysom Hill if he is traded for (by a very desperate team).

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (A+)

The Bucs signed Brady. That’s already an A+ because not only is he an improvement over Winston, but he will increase the play of others on his team. Reports are that he is already amazing the Buc’s players with his leadership (and centre Ryan Jensen with instructions on how to use a towel on game day). To add to this, Brady bought along Gronkowski to add to an already strong TE depth chart. That now creates a lethal receiving group with Gronkowski, Evans, Godwin and OJ Howard / Cameron Brate (assuming one of them is traded). They managed to resign Suh to keep stuffing opposing run games and smartly allowed Carl Nassib to leave due to the contract he got (3 year $25.25 million). Franchise tagging Shaq Barrett will allow for the Bucs to learn if last year was a fluke or a sign of the future. This all put with a young group of DBs (Davis, Murphy-Bunting, Dean and Winfield Jr) leads to a great offense and defence for the upcoming season.

The draft was also great for the Bucs. Getting Wirfs in the first round was great. The weak spot last year was the O-Line and whilst Brady does move well in the pocket, he can’t escape well … at all. Wirfs does overstep often so pass protection may be slightly underwhelming early in his career but his upside is huge and his athleticism will ignite the previously invisible run game which can take some pressure off of Brady. Winfield Jr has incredible instincts at safety and will push for the starting job almost immediately. Vaughn can power away inside and add juice to the run game which was lacklustre for the last few seasons in Tampa. Him and Jones will form a good 1-2 punch. Johnson will be loved by Brady. A receiver who does not drop the ball and makes no mistakes. He may not set the world alight, but his consistency will be important and propel him to the 3rd WR spot. Davis gets to learn from Suh and Vea and Calais will be a great returner on punts and kicks, great value for a seventh-round pick. This team has a great chance to be Superbowl bound.

NFC North Offseason Grades

Chicago Bears (C)

The Bears have had a disappointing last few years (well decades) and that seems to have continued into this year. Trading for Nick Foles is one that will probably not work out. Yes, he is reunited with Matt Nagy but Foles is inconsistent. He can lead a team to a few wins but the playoffs, I doubt. His greatest value would be a teacher for Trubisky but the declined 5th year option shows the Bears are willing to move on. Therefore, Foles is most likely the starting QB for the next two years. Sadly, the defence is in win now mode but Foles is a gap-fill QB. The defence was further added to as well this offseason with the addition of Robert Quinn (5 year $70 million). Giving a 5-year deal to a 30 year old, even if he is coming off an 11.5 sack year, is risky and seems an overcommitment. Whilst the Bears have a potential out after 2 years, it still leaves $9.3 million of dead cap. It likely Quinn is partnering Khalil Mack for the next 4 years and their contracts will likely hamper the team adding to the offense, it’s a shame to see wasted talent. They also added underachieve Artie Burns from the Steelers on a 1-year deal. Low floor but high ceiling, a one-year deal is perfect for the Bears to evaluate who Burns is – a change of scenery could spark some life. Signing Jimmy Graham on a two-year $16 million seems excessive now they drafted Cole Kmet, Graham is only declining in his play. Losing both Kwiatkoski and Floyd was necessary due to the Quinn signing, however, it does leave the depth in the front 7 very doubtful even if the starters are top tier of the league.

The Bears didn’t have their first-round pick due to the Khalil Mack trade and therefore, their first selection was local favourite Kole Kmet TE. He made 9 TEs on the roster but most of them were always going to be cut before the regular season. However, with the signing of Graham, TE wasn’t a major need. Grabbing O-Line or WR (potentially Mims) would have been better value. Johnson (CB from Utah) was a great pick late in the second who can immediately see playing time, most probably replacing Burns before mid-season. Gipson was very inconsistent in college and will take time to make an impact. Mooney could be a great pick, but he’ll need to have a QB that can actually get the ball to him, his smallish wingspan won’t leave any room for inaccuracy.

Detroit Lions (B)

The Lions lost both Glasgow and Wagner this offseason leaving large gaps on the O-Line. They signed Vaitai who can play both guard and tackle to replace one of them. A 5-year $45 million deal is a massive commitment for an effective backup when he was with the Eagles. It’s a massive risk. Less of a risk is the 3-year deal with Jamie Collins ($30 million). An outside linebacker with the ability to take over a game, Patricia knows how to use him from his days in New England. The Lions furthered their range of ex-patriot stars even more by signing Danny Shelton, most likely to replace Harrison as a large run stuffing DT. Desmond Trufant provides much needed experience to a very young corner back group, he can help Okudah get up to speed quickly. Trading for Duron Harmon (also ex-Patriot) provides the Lions with a dependable safety who knows how to close out big games.

The Lions got the best CB in the draft, and the best to come out of the draft in years. He is long, lengthy and doesn’t commit pass interference (as one unfortunate reporter was told at the combine). He is smooth in his movements and his size allows him to match up with any receive in the league. This was followed by selecting Swift in the second round. An electric RB who creates a ridiculous committee with Johnson (who’s ridiculously underrated). Power and speed will allow an easier season for Stafford. Julian Okwara joins his brother in Detroit. The lanky pass rusher who needs to fully recover from his broken leg and “grow into himself” provides high upside for the Lions, it will take time, however. Stenburg is a powerful guard who will hold his own in the league, may never become a star but a good pickup in the 4th. Quintez Cephus is a high upside receiver who deserves to succeed after being acquitted of sexual assault charges which almost derailed his career. He can compete for depth behind Golliday, Jones and Amendola.

Green Bay Packers (D-)

What are the Packers doing? They lost Blake Martinez, a very dependable inside linebacker to the Giants and so they go and replace him with the oft-injured Christian Kirksey. They also lost Bulaga to the Chargers (the first way they annoyed Rodgers) and replaced him with Wagner, who has the feeling of another Nate Solder, declining and overpaid by a desperate team. They then replaced depth receiver Allison with the inconsistent hands of Devin Funchess. They also lost Jimmy Graham (but for the price he went for, that may have been a good move). Now Mercedes Lewis is their top TE at the grand age of 36 (Rodgers is really having a great time right now). Then it only got worse in the draft.

Why pick Love, planning for the future is great but with Rodgers, it should be win now. Love may have talent, but he was severely inconsistent at Utah State. He shouldn’t have been a 1st round pick (neither should Herbert) and it was just a 3rd way to annoy Rodgers. Then there was the 2nd round, a chance to get Rodgers help, a great O-Lineman or receiver and they git … AJ Dillon. A good running back, but a talent that could have been selected in early day 3. Plus, the Packers already have Aaron Jones. Positions the Packers didn’t really need to add to: NO.1 QB, NO.2 RB. With their first two picks they got a QB and a running back. Then they pick Deguara. A tight end but will play fullback for the Packers, he’ll be used like Kyle Juszczyk of the 49ers. But a player like that in the 3rd is still way to high, good value still on the board at that stage such as Donovan Peoples Jones and Gandy-Golden. Martin (LB 5th round pick) is a do-it-all linebacker who would have gone earlier if not for injury. A great pick to help a defence which lost lots of key players in free agency (finally, good news for the Packers). Then 3 interior O-lineman to help depth and could turn into future starters. If Love does become a great QB, then the Packers deserve credit, but they have given up help for Rodgers for a big IF in the future.

Minnesota Vikings (A-)

A great offseason for the Vikings. They may have lost Griffen and Joseph but that D-Line is still scary with Hunter, and new signing Michael Pierce. Pierce is a massive tackling machine who will help stop any run game. Whilst they lost, Rhodes, Waynes and Alexander; they all got replaced (and even improved) in the draft. This helps their cap space. Resigning Dan Bailey for 3 years gives the Vikings a reliable kicker, something they haven’t have since before Blair Walsh missed against the Seahawks in the playoffs. Ameer Abdullah creates injury insurance at the RB position as well. Their biggest loss was that of Stephon Diggs but he was also replaced (albeit not to the same level) in the draft.

The largest draft class of the modern era from the Vikings. This is the best year to have a large draft class in the fact that so many players dropped due to injury concerns or didn’t have the chance to “pop” at a pro day, leaving talent all over the board. Might as well have more darts to throw at a harder board but with bigger rewards. Somehow Justin Jefferson fell all the way to the Vikings (the Eagles are going to hate themselves soon) who immediately creates a receiving threat once provided by Diggs. A monster against single coverage, he can open up the field for Adam Theilen. They then used their second 1st round pick on my second ranked CB in the draft, Jeff Gladney. Slightly overlooked for his smaller frame 5ft 10in 191lbs, he plays large and is a fighter. He is sticky in coverage and can even overpower some receivers. Can instantly start for the Vikings. Dantzler, the second CB the Vikings took (3rd round) is a high upside player. Long and lengthy, a true athlete who only recently converted from WR. Once he learns the position, he’ll be a great corner. They selected Ezra Cleveland in the late second, he needs to improve his strength but with Riley Reiff still manning the left tackle position, he will have a year or two to improve. Wonnum is a 4th round pick with good upside as a pass rusher. Willekes is another pass rusher (7th round) who had insane production in college. His athletic ability may not be top tier but he finds ways to produce and if he does at the NFL level, it doesn’t matter how he does it, a great 7th round pick. KJ Osborn can help in the return game and can provide slot receiving outside of Adam Theilen, provides great depth for a 5th round pick. Their great pickups continued with undrafted free agents with Quarterny Davis out of Texas A&M. He’s a sharp route-runner who can easily create separation. A truly great class from the Vikings, overall a great offseason. Cousins has no excuses next year.

NFC East Offseason Grades

Dallas Cowboys (A-)

The Cowboys had a great free agency. They had to let Byron Jones and Robert Quinn leave due to the massive salaries they would have received (and did). Therefore, resigning Anthony Brown will massively help keep the cornerback play high, even if it won’t be dangerous like last year but they won’t lose too many interceptions (Jones only has 2 in his career). Allowing Quinn to leave was the right idea, even though it leaves a gaping hole opposite Lawrence. The Bears overpaid and overcommitted to him. Last season the Cowboys allowed 11 games over 100yds rushing last season and only created 27.5 sacks outside of Quinn with no inside rusher accumulating more than 4 sacks and therefore, they signed Gerald McCoy to a 3-year $18.5 million deal. That may seem excessive for a 32-year old with dwindling success but there is an out after 1 year. An essential one-year prove it deal which can only bring excess sacks. Clinton-dix feels a hole at box safety but the best value signings are Dalton and Zuerlein. Andy Dalton is probably the best backup QB in the league and will lead the Cowboys to wins if Prescott has to miss games. Greg “the leg” Zuerlein will be a consistent kicker for the Cowboys, something they haven’t had since the best days of Dan Bailey.

The Cowboys also had one of their best drafts for years. Lamb shouldn’t have fallen as far as he did and builds on the powerhouse offense. However, I’m not as high on the pick as others due to K’Lavon Chaisson and Jeff Gladney being on the board (probably trade back, accumulate capital before picking Gladney). However, Lamb was a great pick. Then they got Stephon Diggs’ brother Trevon Diggs CB in the second. There were many better corners in the draft, Diggs was not completely trusted at Alabama (mostly had a safety covering) but with his brother in the NFL, he knows what’s waiting for him in the NFL and can emerge as a starter. Gallimore gets to learn from McCoy. Robinson is a hit/miss pick but shows promise and was value in the 4th. Biadasz will enter the competition to replace Travis Fredrick. The best pick was Bradley Anae. How he fell to the 5th is a mystery. A powerful pocket collapsar who will eventually complement Lawrence rushing from the left side. Dak Prescott may be the only player holding them back.

New York Giants (B-)

The first risk that the Giants took is hiring from the Belichick coaching tree. Whilst Vrabel has worked out and Flores looks to be a beast of a coach, passed apples from the tree of Belichick have not worked out so well, as we’re currently seeing (Bill O’Brian). Therefore, it will be intriguing to see how Joe Judge works, my feeling is that he’ll be a good but not great coach – he still needs to learn for a few years. The Giants took a second risk signing Bradberry to a 3-year $43.5 million deal. Bradberry is a good CB but not deserving of the contract, he only received a 61.7 overall grade from PFF last year. Blake Martinez is an upgrade at linebacker and his contract (3 years $30.75 million) isn’t excessive. Nate Ebner will bring energy to the locker room and boost special teams, following his special teams’ coach to New York in Joe Judge.

Andrew Thomas was a starter at Georgia as a true freshman and has continued ever-since. A sure fire starter to play opposite Solder, he has a high floor even if his ceiling isn’t as great as Becton, Wills or Wirfs. Protecting Jones is top priority and Thomas was a good option to do so. McKinney wasn’t expected to slip out the first round. Although the 2nd is where I would have taken him. His instincts are strong but does lose coverage too often for comfort. However, he could get a year playing rotation behind Julian Love before starting. Matt Peart will sit behind Solder and learn for two years. Therefore, he was great value in the 3rd and can work on his main weakness – strength. In the late rounds, they targeted linebackers, to provide depth and look for help on special teams, something Judge clearly cares about, considering he is an ex-special teams coordinator.

Philadelphia Eagles (C+)

The Eagles free agency hinges on the success of Javon Hargrave and Darius “Big Play” Slay. Hargrave was a monster pickup which replaces the loss of Timmy Jernigan and complement the beast of Fletcher Cox. With Brandon Graham; and Barnett, Avery and Sweat working in rotation; this D-Line looks scary again. Slay was an absolute steal in their trade and the Eagles finally have a CB1 on their roster. Robey-Coleman and Will Parks both come in on a one-year “prove it” deal at their DB positions. Most of free agency was about their players that left getting overpaid. Vaitai and Jenkins are massive risks on their 5-year and 4-year deals for their respected teams. However, the Eagles didn’t sign any wide receivers, not even a veteran such as Ted Ginn. Their free agency will get better if they sign Jason Peters as well.

The draft was an interesting one. Taking Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson will be a decision they regret. Whilst they may want a home-run hitter, Jefferson is no slouch and Reagor has a very low floor (although, he does have a high ceiling). Just hope it’s not Agholor 2.0. Hurts isn’t the worst pick. Wentz is injury prone and Hurts is the type of electric player that can be flipped for picks down the road, the issue is that the Eagles had big holes and planning for the future shouldn’t be part of the “win now” mode the Eagles should still be in. Davion Taylor is not NFL ready and the Eagles have a below average linebacker group, but if Taylor can get up to speed the talent is there, another pick for the future rather than this year. Wallace is a safe pick, he can push both Mills and Parks for the starting strong safety spot. He’s not a world beater but starting potential in the 4th is always good value. Prince Tega-Wanogho is a tackle who dropped due to injury concerns, but his ceiling is ridiculously high (a bit like Jordan Mailata). A very inconsistent draft class for the Eagles.

Washington Redskins (B+)

The first good decision the Redskins made was hiring “Riverboat Ron” Riveria who is a perfect fit considering that monster D-Line the Redskins currently have. The players are going to play for him. Then they signed Fuller back from the Chiefs, a premiere slot corner in the league, Fuller can stop passing offenses that move via the slot receivers (Patriots, Bills and even the Giants). If Fabian Moreau and one year deal of Ronald Darby hold up on the edge, this defence will be incredible (that’s a big if). Schweitzer immediately replaces Eric Flowers at left guard. JD McKissick also replaces Chris Thompson as the pass-catching threat out the backfield which gives the Redskins an improve rotation after their draft. However, losing Trent Williams, especially in the messy way they did is a blow, and one that still has a gaping hole at left tackle, they’re not that important … right?

They got Chase Young … A+. Young, Allen, Payne, Sweat and Ioannidis, that’s a lot of sacks, even more so if they keep Kerrigan around (albeit unlikely, probable cap casualty). Antonio Gibson is a swiss army knife who can play at RB, WR or anything in between. The backfield now consists of Peterson, Guice, McKissic and Gibson. The run game will be powerful to alleviate pressure off second year QB Haskins. Charles will move inside to guard due to his frame (6ft 4in 321lbs) but can cover at tackle if needed. More likely, he’s insurance for Schweitzer and Scherff at guard. Gandy-Golden is a high upside jump ball WR at 6ft 4in. Any one on one matchup in the redzone, that ball is going straight to Gandy-Golden. He will also see playing time due to the weak talent that currently occupies the Redskin WR group, however, they are all young with only Cody Latimer drafted before 2018. Undrafted free agent Thaddeus Moss (TE) will be an absolute steal. He may not be unstoppable like his Father (Randy Moss) but he will quickly ascend the depth chart, an absolute steal.