Offseason In Review

Offseason In Review: New England Patriots

The Patriots completed the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history, and they followed that up with an equally aggressive offseason. New England made a number of notable trades and free agent signings beginning in March to load up for Tom Brady‘s twilight seasons.

While 2017 contributors like Martellus Bennett and Logan Ryan took paydays elsewhere, the Patriots quickly replaced the departures with names like Dwayne Allen and Stephon Gilmore. New England also brought in dynamic, young wideout Brandin Cooks, a pair of intriguing running backs, and former Jets linebacker David Harris.

However, despite all of the names New England brought in this offseason, the biggest moves might have been the trades they didn’t make…

Notable signings:

The Patriots first signing of the offseason was also the most lucrative. The organization convinced cornerback Stephon Gilmore to switch AFC East teams, handing him the most guaranteed money for a defensive player in franchise history. While trade rumors surrounded fellow cornerback Malcolm Butler for much of the offseason (before he ultimately signed his first-round restricted free agent tender…more on that later), the former Super Bowl hero is still in New England, and Gilmore figures to play alongside the former undrafted free agent.

Stephon Gilmore (vertical)Gilmore, a 2012 first-round pick, set a career-high with five interceptions last season, and he also compiled 48 tackles and 12 passes defended. ProFootballFocus wasn’t particularly fond of his performance in Buffalo, ranking him 61st among 110 eligible cornerbacks. Butler, meanwhile, ranked seventh, and despite Gilmore’s shortcomings, the two cornerbacks should still form a formidable duo.

To solidify the secondary, the Patriots also re-signed safety Duron Harmon, who had spent the first four seasons of his career in New England. The 26-year-old was given a bit more responsibility in 2016, and he responded with 29 tackles, one interception, and forced one fumble in 16 games (four starts). Harmon should once again serve as a rotational piece behind starters Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung.

The Patriots weren’t finished shaping their defense via free agency. Perhaps one of the most notable moves was the signing of linebacker David Harris, who joined New England following 10 years with the Jets. The 33-year-old certainly showed signs of decline in 2016, finishing with his lowest tackle total (86) since 2011 and the lowest sack total (0.5) of his career. Still, the veteran fills a bit of hole for the Patriots (especially following injuries to Shea McClellin and Derek Rivers), and he figures to start at linebacker for his new team.

To round out the defense, the team re-signed defensive tackle Alan Branch and signed veteran lineman Lawrence Guy. Branch has started 31 games for the Patriots over the past two seasons, and his favorable Pro Football Focus grading (26th among 125 eligible interior defenders) justifies why he’ll be starting alongside Malcom Brown once again. Guy has primarily played a reserve role throughout his career, although he did start a career-high 10 games last year for the Ravens. Considering the youth of his fellow defensive ends, Guy might get the starting defensive end gig with Trey Flowers.

Mike Gillislee (Vertical)On the offensive side of the ball, the Patriots made several signings as they looked to replace the departed LeGarrette Blount. New England’s running game is usually unpredictable, but Mike Gillislee figures to play a prominent role in 2017. The former fifth-round pick made a name for himself last year with the Bills, compiling career-highs in attempts (101), yards (577), and rushing touchdowns (eight). Of course, the Patriots coaches were probably most enticed by his one career fumble, and his career 6.7-yards-per-carry mark is a big reason why he could be the main replacement for Blount. The Patriots also signed former Bengals running back Rex Burkhead, who also had a bit of a breakout year in 2016. Injuries limited the 27-year-old during the preseason, although there’s always a chance that Burkhead can ultimately lead the team in carries. The Patriots have always thrived when using an unpredictable running game, and we’ll presumably see the team utilize the best backs for specific matchups.

Fullback James Develin will be back in New England for another season, as the team re-signed him to a two-year deal. The 29-year-old doesn’t play much of a role in the Patriots rushing game, but he’s proved to be a very capable blocker, as Pro Football Focus rated him third among 15 eligible fullbacks. The Patriots also re-signed tackle Cameron Fleming, who had spent the first three seasons of his career with the organization. The 25-year-old has primarily seen time as a reserve during his New England tenure, starting 14 career games.

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Offseason In Review: Chicago Bears

After their worst season in nearly 50 years, the Bears authored one of the more interesting offseasons in the NFL. They signed a slew of middling veterans in free agency but soon after made the biggest draft investment at quarterback in franchise history.

The quarterback position obviously took center stage in Chicago this offseason, and as a result of adding a starting quarterback in March and a high-end prospect in April, the Bears are operating on a unique timeline. High expectations aren’t in the cards for the 2017 Bears, but they will be a team to monitor because of what transpired during their player-acquisition period.

Notable signings:

For now, Glennon will have another chance to show he can be an NFL starter. A recurring subject of trade rumors in recent years, the former Buccaneers third-round pick will throw more passes in Week 1 than he did in the past two seasons combined. But in less than two months, Glennon reverted to lame-duck status. Only instead of having the opportunity to display his qualifications for a starting job over the course of a sizable work sample (18 starts for the Bucs from 2013-14), the 27-year-old passer may not have much job security in his new city.

Bears fans witnessed a player with high-end tools deliver middling production for nearly a decade, but Glennon’s post-Jay Cutler audition might not even last through 2017. His guarantee pretty much tethers him to the Bears for this season alone, and Mitch Trubisky will be expected to assume command by 2018. The situation makes sense for the Bears, to some degree, in bringing in an average quarterback to run a team with low expectations while the hopeful prodigy learns. But a Brian Hoyer re-up may have been more reasonable for continuity purposes instead of authorizing a near-$20MM guarantee to a UFA who clearly isn’t in the long-term plans.

Many Bears UFA deals were not needle-movers, with the franchise striking out on some big-money targets — from A.J. Bouye to Stephon Gilmore to an Alshon Jeffery re-signing — and the franchise instead spent money on several second-tier acquisitions. This took place at both cornerback and wide receiver.

Amukamara’s been a solid defender, albeit an injury-prone one, since coming into the league. The seventh-year man showed he could stay relatively healthy last season by playing 14 Jaguars games. The 28-year-old accepted another one-year pact and will be expected to lead Chicago’s corner corps. Cooper has not shown nearly the consistency his newly arriving counterpart has and was a nonfactor in Kansas City for much of his time there. Pro Football Focus graded Cooper — his four interceptions notwithstanding — as a bottom-10 corner last season with the Cardinals.

No cornerback prospects reside in the team’s pipeline, so the franchise could have to start over again in 2018 — especially after not picking up Kyle Fuller‘s fifth-year option.

With Cameron Meredith out for the year, the situation is just as strange now at wide receiver.

In lieu of convincing Jeffery to stay, the Bears went bargain shopping and will be relying on two buy-low options in Wheaton and Wright. Despite lacking the kind of numbers Wright put up with Jake Locker, the former Steelers supporting-caster received the bigger commitment of the two. Wright compiled nearly a 1,100-yard season under now-Bears OC Dowell Loggains with the 2013 Titans and has upside after being marginalized in Tennessee the past two seasons.

Wheaton’s struggled with injuries this offseason and missed 13 games in his contract year. While he did fare decently with the 2015 Steelers (17.0 yards per catch, five touchdown grabs), Wheaton not having the benefit of Antonio Brown could limit his Chicago prospects.

Should Kevin White be unable to stay healthy for a third straight season, Chicago may be forced to retool here in ’18. Instead of deploying wideouts who could grow alongside Trubisky, the Bears have placed some veterans that fit Glennon’s timetable more. (Although, to be fair, Meredith profiled as an ascending talent pre-injury.)

The Bears also have a veteran-laden tight end assembly, with a Zach Miller/Sims combination occupying this spot while Adam Shaheen develops. Sims showed little as a receiver with the Dolphins and is not coming off a season where he displayed much in the run-blocking department — at least, not in the view of PFF — and his contract parallels Glennon’s in being basically a one-year commitment. Virtually no guarantees exist on Sims’ deal in 2018 or ’19, so he’ll have to show more this season than he did during his first four (699 career receiving yards).

In not becoming a full-time starter until his age-30 season, Demps has traversed a unique career arc. The former Eagles and Texans backup and part-time starter with the Giants and Chiefs became a solid back-line defender upon returning to Houston. PFF rated Demps as its No. 10 safety in 2016, when he intercepted a career-high six passes. Based on recent production, the Bears did well to sign Demps for less than $5MM guaranteed. But he’s now 32 and may have delivered his best work already. Nevertheless, Demps is a proven safety who should help Chicago in the short term.

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Offseason In Review: New York Jets

The Jets swear up and down that they aren’t tanking, but if they’re not trying to secure the first pick in the 2018 draft, then we’re not quite sure what the game plan is. Recently, former head coach Rex Ryan became the latest to pile on Gang Green’s offseason.

They have to get a quarterback,” Ryan told ESPN.com’s Rich Cimini. “That kid from Penn State, we all know that’s not the answer.”

That kid, Christian Hackenberg, was taken in the second round of last year’s draft with the hope that he would blossom into the team’s next franchise QB. He did not see a snap as a rookie and this year he is third on the depth chart behind a 38-year-old journeyman and a former fourth-round pick with limited NFL experience.

The question marks go far beyond the quarterback position. The Jets are a team with no real prospects for the 2017 season and no exact blueprint for the future. However, if the Jets can secure the No. 1 pick (which is totally not their goal, you guys), then there will be some reason for hope.

Notable signings:

Josh McCown had opportunities to serve as a No. 2 quarterback for contending teams, but he followed the money to New York where he’ll enter as the Week 1 starter. McCown didn’t have a ton of competition for the job this summer given Hackenberg’s aforementioned struggles and Bryce Petty‘s knee injury, but he’ll probably get the hook if/when the Jets fall in the standings. Eventually, the Jets have to get a better read on what Petty can offer and they’ll have to test Hackenberg in some fashion. "<strong

The good news for the Jets’ QB trio is that the team did invest a bit in the offensive line. One of last year’s most porous units now has Kelvin Beachum starting at left tackle, and he could be a difference maker if he’s healthy. The 28-year-old was an elite left tackle in 2014 with the Steelers. In 2015, he had his season cut short by a torn ACL and could not get back to his old form upon joining the Jaguars in 2016. Last year he graded out as the NFL’s No. 63 tackle among 78 qualifiers, per Pro Football Focus, and one has to wonder if the knee injury was holding him back. Last year’s left tackle, Ben Ijalana, will slide back over to the right side after re-upping on a two-year deal.

"<strongThe Jets made a low-risk/high-reward signing by adding cornerback Morris Claiborne in March. There’s just one problem here – what good will it do the Jets to have a quality cornerback on a one-year deal when the rest of the team is not equipped to win? Then again, if the Jets wanted to add a second or third year to the deal, it would have cost them a pretty penny. The Claiborne deal came in at just $5MM for this year and that will be a steal if Claiborne can perform like he did in his injury-shorted 2016 campaign. Claiborne was on the field for only seven games, but he finished out as Pro Football Focus’ 12th ranked corner for his work in Dallas. If he plays well, it’s possible that the Jets will re-sign him to a long-term deal, allowing him to be a part of the franchise’s turnaround.

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Offseason In Review: San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers have been a mess since Jim Harbaugh left for Michigan following the 2014 campaign, but the club is perhaps finally getting back on track. With a new general manager and head coach in place, San Francisco spent the offseason rebuilding from the ground up.

Notable signings:

With a new regime lead by head coach/offensive mastermind Kyle Shanahan in place, the 49ers nearly revamped the entirety of their offensive skill positions during the free agent period. That effort started with the signings of quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley, who will likely serve as San Francisco’s No. 1 and No. 2 options under center in 2017. The 49ers figure to target a signal-caller upgrade in the coming year, either through an early draft choice or a pursuit of a free agent quarterback such as Kirk Cousins, but a Hoyer/Barkley tandem is a serviceable duo for a rebuilding club, especially given the limited price tag. Hoyer, of course, has worked with Shanahan before, passing for more than 3,000 yards, 12 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions under the then-Browns play-caller in 2014. While the 31-year-old performed much better in 2016 (no interceptions on 200 pass attempts), Hoyer finished 26th in air yards per attempt among quarterbacks with at least five starts, meaning his success was mostly based around short throws.Pierre Garcon (vertical)

Hoyer will be tossing the ball to a wide receiver crew that’s almost entirely new, and is now led by Pierre Garcon. Like Hoyer, Garcon has played for Shanahan in the past, as he lead the NFL in receptions with the Redskins in 2013 while Shanahan was the club’s offensive coordinator. While Garcon may not be a clear-cut No. 1 wideout any more at the age of 31, he’ll serve in that capacity for the 49ers, especially given that he’s familiar with the team’s new offensive scheme. It won’t be a surprise if he improves upon his 114 targets from a season ago, and the club will value his leadership and toughness. San Francisco didn’t stop after adding Garcon, however, as the club also signed Marquise Goodwin, Aldrick Robinson, and Louis Murphy while re-upping Jeremy Kerley. Goodwin is the most intriguing of the bunch, as he’s a former Olympian who ran a 4.27-second 40-yard dash at the 2013 combine. Ideally, that would make Goodwin a near-perfect option to play the Taylor Gabriel/deep threat role in Shanahan’s offense.

San Francisco’s backfield also saw a makeover headlined by the additions of running back Tim Hightower and fullback Kyle Juszczyk. Hightower is 31 years old, but he doesn’t have the wear-and-tear of a normal running back of that age given that he didn’t play in the NFL from 2012-14 (all told, he’s only rushed 752 times during his pro career). While he should be able to help in the passing game, Hightower could have trouble running behind the 49ers’ sub-par offensive line — according to the 2017 Football Outsiders Almanac, Hightower broke a tackle on only 7.8% of his touches, second-worst in the league. Juszczyk, meanwhile, signed one of the more above-market deals in recent memory, as he blew away all fullback precedents with a $5.25MM annual salary that is more than double the next fullback. The deal is a complete overpay, but Shanahan knows how to deploy fullbacks (see: Patrick DiMarco in 2016), and San Francisco had cap space to burn.

The 49ers used that ample cap space to ink a number of veterans to low-cost contracts (whether that be minimum salary benefit deals or just pacts with little-to-no guaranteed money). Never was that more apparent that along the offensive line, where San Francisco signed Tim Barnes, Brandon Fusco, Andrew Gardner, and Garry Gilliam, the latter of whom was poached from the division-rival Seahawks in restricted free agency. None of those players is a superstar, and they may not all even make the Niners’ 53-man roster. But they’ll give the club some semblance of respectability up front — Fusco, notably, is now on track to start at right guard while Barnes could conceivably see time at center in place of Daniel Kilgore. Barnes, Fusco, and Gilliam combined to start 43 games in 2016.Elvis Dumervil

Taking chances on cheap players was also a tactic for San Francisco on the defensive side of the ball (cornerback K’Waun Williams, defensive linemen Chris Jones and Leger Douzable), but the club also brought in a number of defenders who should definitely stick on the roster. The 49ers’ defensive line was specifically addressed, as the team signed defensive tackles Earl Mitchell and Sen’Derrick Marks plus edge rusher Elvis Dumervil. Mitchell should anchor the interior of San Francisco’s defensive front, playing the nose tackle role alongside three-technique DeForest Buckner, while Marks can offer a bit of pass rush on an interior rotation. Dumervil, though, is potentially the most interesting addition, as the 33-year-old came on in 2016 after returning from a foot injury — in the last five weeks of the season, Dumervil managed 22 total pressures (sixth among edge defenders), per Pro Football Focus.

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Offseason In Review: New Orleans Saints

Another year, another massive disparity between the two sides of the Saints’ roster. 2016 marked the third consecutive season in which New Orleans’ offense ranked as top-seven DVOA unit while the club’s defense finished in the bottom-two by the same metric. Closing that gap was atop general manager Mickey Loomis‘ offseason itinerary.

Notable signings:

While Jahri Evans had made nearly every start at right guard for the Saints over the past decade-plus, that won’t be the case in 2017, as New Orleans agreed to a four-year contract with former Lions lineman Larry Warford. Detroit wasn’t successful in the run-blocking game last season (31st in adjusted line yards), but the club was best at rushing up the middle, as it ranked 20th in ALY on runs over the center or guard. While Warford has never lived up to his standout rookie campaign, he’s been a relatively consistent player of the course of his NFL tenure. And the Saints got a good deal: among the top guards available in 2017 (Warford, Kevin Zeitler, T.J. Lang, and Ronald Leary), Warford is the youngest but received the lowest annual salary and cheapest guarantee.Adrian Peterson (Vertical)

Running behind Warford and the rest of the New Orleans offensive line will be veteran back Adrian Peterson, who landed with the Saints after the Vikings declined his 2017 option. Peterson, of course, was sidelined for two of the past three seasons, first by a child abuse case and then by a torn meniscus. When he was last healthy in 2015, Peterson lead the league with 1,485 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns, but he’s now 32 years old and could struggle to see work based on his lack of ability in the passing game (both as a receiver and a blocker). Peterson also has trouble running out of the shotgun, but that concern could be mitigated with the Saints, as New Orleans ran the ball out of a shotgun formation on only 13% of plays in 2017, 30th among NFL clubs.

Ted Ginn Jr. is another new addition to the Saints’ offense, and he’ll attempt to replicate the Devery Henderson role — deep pass specialist — with Drew Brees and the rest of the New Orleans passing game. Henderson led the NFL in yards per reception twice during his Saints career, and if Ginn can come close to that level of production, New Orleans will assuredly be pleased. In 2016, Ginn posted seven receptions of 30+ yards, four of which went for touchdowns, but he also has infamously unreliable hands, as he finished 13th in drop rate among wideouts with at least 50 targets.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Saints took another swing at finding an edge rusher to play opposite Cameron Jordan by inking former Cardinal Alex Okafor to a one-year pact. Okafor is still only 26 years old and put up eight sacks as recently as 2014, but he’s posted only 5.5 sacks during the past two years and will now be playing defensive end as opposed to outside linebacker. Sacks aren’t the only indicator of pressure, however, and Okafor ranked fourth among 3-4 outside ‘backers in Pro Football Focus‘ pass rush productivity metric a season ago. At the very least, Okafor will provide improvement over what New Orleans was deploying in 2016, and even if his lackluster run defense abilities make him a sub package-only player, Okafor should be a value at his $3MM salary.Manti Te'o (vertical)

The Saints’ linebacking unit will also see some new faces, as both Manti Te’o and A.J. Klein are expected to earn starting jobs. Te’o won’t technically be a full-time player, however, as he’ll start in New Orleans’ base defense before coming off the field on passing downs, meaning he’ll likely play on roughly a third of the club’s defensive snaps. That’s probably a good strategy for Te’o given his health concerns — the former second-round pick has missed a whopping 30 of 64 possible games during his four-year career, mostly due to lower-body injuries. Klein, meanwhile, stays in the NFC South after beginning his career in Carolina, where he mostly served as a reserve and special teams ace behind one of the league’s best linebacker duos in Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. He figures to play alongside rookie Alex Anzalone in the Saints’ nickel defense.

Sterling Moore has been a valuable backup cornerback wherever he’s played, but he was stretched as a 12-game starter for the Saints last year. While he ranked as PFF’s No. 64 corner among 110 qualifiers, Moore finished 81st among 84 cornerbacks in Football Outsiders’ success rate. Moore played 76.7% of New Orleans’ defensive snaps (a career high) in 2016, but he will likely get pushed down the club’s depth chart during the upcoming season. The Saints invested a first-round draft choice in fellow corner Marshon Lattimore, while other defensive backs such as P.J. Williams are returning to health, meaning Moore will likely serve as a backup.

Moore was a cost-effective signing, but he wasn’t as cheap as the multitude of minimum salary benefit (MSB) contracts the Saints handed out this spring. As a reminder, MSB deals allow clubs to pay a player the veteran’s minimum based on their years of NFL experience while absorbing the cap charge for a player with only two accrued seasons. New Orleans signed 15 players to such pacts, six more than the next club (the Bears), and even guaranteed some portions of base salaries in those deals. For a team like the Saints that’s consistently up against the salary cap, it’s a smart strategy, as it allowed the team to bring in quality veterans such as Rafael Bush, Tony McDaniel, and Darryl Tapp without forfeiting much cap space.

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Offseason In Review: Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins were 1-4 last October 9 and looked poised to miss the playoffs for the eighth consecutive season in what would have been a disappointing first go-round for new head coach Adam Gase. Miami rebounded, however, reeling off six straight victories, winning nine of its final 11 games, and finishing with a 10-6 record and a Wild Card berth. Starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill missed the Dolphins’ final three regular season games and their postseason contest with a knee injury, a precursor to another health issue that would cause Miami to re-calibrate in the first week of August 2017.

Notable signings:

If you took a long weekend near the beginning of August, you may have missed the entire Jay Cutler-to-Miami saga — it happened that quickly. On August 3, Ryan Tannehill, who had missed the end of the 2016 campaign with an ACL/MCL sprain, went down during Dolphins practice, leading the club’s decision-makers to “fear the worst” in regards to their starting quarterback’s health. Just four days later, Cutler was back in the NFL, having un-retired and left his gig as a FOX analyst in order to sign a one-year deal with Miami.

Cutler, of course, was completely ineffective a year ago, posting one of the worst seasons of his career. But just one year prior, working under then Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase, Cutler produced an excellent campaign that included the best quarterback rating and second-best completion percentage of his NFL tenure. In fact, Cutler’s 2015 numbers were remarkably similar to those of Tannehill in 2016. The following table contrasts Cutler and Tannehill’s statistics under Gase in 2015 and 2016, respectively, and the figures are indexed (courtesy of Pro Football Reference), meaning 100 is league average and a higher number is better:

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Tannehill was a bit better in 2016 than Cutler was in 2015, but if Cutler can come close to matching Tannehill’s performance from last season, and keep Miami in the top half of the offensive DVOA rankings, the Dolphins would likely be content. If Cutler does reach that level, Miami would be facing several questions next offseason, especially if they have interest in retaining Cutler beyond 2016. The Dolphins, for what’s it worth, can release Tannehill next offseason in a move that would save $15.2MM against the cap (and incur only $4.6MM in dead money). Whether that’s a viable scenario depends entirely on Cutler’s showing, and whether Tannehill can pass a physical next spring.Kenny Stills (Vertical)

Cutler will be throwing the ball to an impressive group of wide receivers that includes Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, and Kenny Stills, the latter of whom re-signed with the Dolphins on a four-year pact. Stills, 25, posted a career-high nine touchdowns last season, and eight of those scores came on receptions of 20+ yards, tying him with Antonio Brown for the most deep scores among pass-catchers. Although pre-free agency rumors indicated Stills could garner upwards of $12MM annually on the open market, Miami inked Stills for only $8MM per season, an annual salary that ranks just 21st among wideouts.

In order for Stills to get deep, the Dolphins’ offensive line will need to hold up better than it did last season, when the unit ranked 21st in adjusted sack rate. Miami believed it could rectify its guard situation on the cheap, and the club didn’t spent much money to upgrade its interior. Jermon Bushrod is back at right guard after finishing 26th in snaps per blown block a year ago, per the 2017 Football Outsiders Almanac, while free agent addition Ted Larsen won’t contribute in 2016 after tearing his biceps, meaning the inexperienced Jesse Davis is now projected to start at left guard. Tight end Anthony Fasano, now in his second stint in South Beach, should be able to help on the edge, as he graded as the league’s No. 1 blocking tight end in 2016, according to Pro Football Focus.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Dolphins made a number of curious signings, and that list starts with defensive end Andre Branch. Let’s go back to 2016, when Miami originally signed Branch: he was coming off a season with the Jaguars in which he saw 597 defensive snaps and managed four sacks and 18 hurries. The Dolphins inked Branch to a one-year pact worth only $3MM. In his first season with Miami, Branch improved to 5.5 sacks and 20 hurries, but had to play nearly 200 more snaps to get there. Keeping in mind that he’s now one year older, does the Dolphins’ evaluation of Branch as a $8MM per year player make any sense? Just 12 months after finding a value on the free agent scrap heap, Miami over corrected and made Branch a top-20 edge rusher in terms of annual salary.Lawrence Timmons (vertical)

Football operations chief Mike Tannenbaum and general manager Chris Grier‘s indefensible decisions continued at the second level, as the signing of former Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons was a clear overpay. The 31-year-old Timmons wasn’t linked to any other clubs besides the Dolphins in free agency, so it’s possible Miami was negotiating against itself as it agreed to a two-year deal that includes $11MM guaranteed. Timmons can’t cover anymore, and while some of his pass defense struggles may have been a product of Pittsburgh’s scheme, the Dolphins are going to be disappointed if Timmons is asked to play in nickel packages. Fellow Miami addition Rey Maualuga finished only 11 spots worse than Timmons in PFF’s linebacker rankings, and he signed a minimum salary benefit contract, further exposing the mistake that is Timmons’ deal.

The Dolphins went bargain-hunting in the secondary, signing low-cost free agents such as Nate Allen, T.J. McDonald, and Alterraun Verner. Allen, who served as the Raiders’ third safety last season, figures to start for Miami for the first half of the 2017 campaign as McDonald serves an eight-game suspension. The Dolphins knew McDonald was banned before they signed him, and perhaps saw an opportunity to land a 26-year-old safety with 53 starts under his belt on a cheap deal. Verner, meanwhile, didn’t find a deal until July, but he could play a larger role than expected now that Tony Lippett is lost for the year with a torn Achilles.

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Offseason In Review: Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers are everyone’s favorite 2017 sleeper. The Bolts are moving to a new city, coming off of two consecutive double-digit loss seasons, and have earned only one postseason berth in the past seven years, but Los Angeles looks poised to at least contend for the AFC West during the upcoming campaign. Here’s what general manager Tom Telesco & Co. did this offseason:

Notable signings:

The Chargers’ offensive line has been a clear weakness for the past few seasons, and that was never more apparent than in 2016. With ineffectiveness plaguing the club’s guard positions, Los Angeles ranked in the bottom third of the NFL in adjusted sack rate, adjusted line yards, and pressure rate. Left tackle was a problem, as well, as King Dunlap graded as a below-average blindside protector in his second straight injury-shortened campaign. With an eye towards improving Philip Rivers‘ protection, the Chargers struck quickly to sign tackle Russell Okung on the first day of free agency.Russell Okung (Vertical)

Okung spent the 2016 season with the division rival Broncos after inking an oft-criticized, self-negotiated contract that contained no guaranteed money. Although Okung ended up earning $8MM last year, Denver declined a multi-season option on the veteran offensive lineman that would have locked him in with the Broncos through 2020. Okung ultimately came out on top, however, as his new Chargers deal makes him the league’s highest-paid tackle on an annual basis, slightly ahead of Washington’s Trent Williams.

Clearly, the pact is an overpay, as Okung only offered middling production last season (No. 38 among offensive tackle among 78 qualifiers, per Pro Football Focus). And if the Chargers are looking for reliability, they aren’t getting it with Okung, who’s missed 24 games during his seven-year career. But for a club that’s been looking for any kind of consistent effort along the offensive line, Okung should be able to stabilize the left tackle position for the next several seasons.

Okung wasn’t the Chargers’ most significant investment of the offseason, however — that moniker goes to edge rusher Melvin Ingram, who was initially assigned the franchise tag before agreeing to a four-year extension. Ingram, 28, dealt with injury issues earlier in his career, but he’s appeared in all 16 games in each of the past two seasons. During that time, Ingram ranks fourth among 3-4 outside linebackers with 125 total pressures, and also registered 18.5 sacks.

In new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley‘s 4-3 scheme, Ingram will move to defensive end, meaning he should have even more chances to get after opposing quarterbacks. The change shouldn’t be all that extreme, however, as head coach Anthony Lynn says Los Angeles played “four-down spacing” in 2016 even though it used a 3-4 front. Lining up opposite reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year Joey Bosa, Ingram should be able to help the Chargers improve upon their 15th ranked adjusted sack rate.Jahleel Addae (vertical)

In the second level of their defense, the Chargers re-signed Jahleel Addae to a four-year pact and also brought in fellow safety Tre Boston, inking the latter after he was cut by the Panthers. Addae is quietly one of the more effective safeties in the NFL: in 2016, he graded 13th overall at his position, per PFF, although he missed half the season after suffering a broken collarbone in Week 2. Among all defensive backs, Addae ranked 32nd in PFF’s tackle per opportunity, and is effective against both the run and pass. Boston, meanwhile, is still only 25 years old and is competing with incumbent Dwight Lowery for a starting job.

Like Lowery, offensive lineman Kenny Wiggins is fighting for a starting role, although Wiggins may have a near-lock on the No. 1 slot at right guard. Wiggins, a 29-year-old journeyman who was nearly out of the league as recently as 2013, is now slated to play a major role along Los Angeles’ offensive line following second-round rookie Forrest Lamp‘s season-ending injury. Lamp wasn’t the only offensive lineman on which the Chargers used a relatively early pick, as third-rounder Dan Feeney is also in contention for the right guard job.

Melvin Gordon will Los Angeles’ primary back running behind Wiggins and the rest of the Chargers’ offensive line, and his workload doesn’t figure to be reduced after he played 659 offensive snaps a year ago (sixth among NFL running backs). The Chargers signed Branden Oliver and Kenjon Barner to cheap single-season pacts, and Kenneth Farrow is returning, but Gordon could see an increase on his 254 rushing attempts. It won’t be surprising if Los Angeles seeks to acquire another — preferably pass-catching — running back during roster cuts, with Travaris Cadet, Andre Ellington, and Jamaal Charles among the candidates for release next week.

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Offseason In Review: Jacksonville Jaguars

Although the 2016 Jaguars may not have been as poor as their 3-13 record indicated (Football Outsiders pegged Jacksonville’s expected wins at 5.4 while Pro Football Reference had them at 5.9), the club still posted at least 11 losses for the sixth consecutive season. Having fired their head coach in-season, the Jaguars seemed likely to add free agent talent to their roster, and with nearly $70MM in available cap space, they had the funds to do so.

Notable signings:

The Jaguars have completely revamped their starting defensive backfield over the past two years, first adding Jalen Ramsey and Tashaun Gipson through the draft and free agency, respectively, in 2016 before signing A.J. Bouye and Barry Church this spring. Bouye, particularly, was one of the more interesting free agent cases in recent memory, as he’d only played on 819 defensive snaps over his first three NFL seasons before seeing action on 722 plays last year. He was excellent, as well, grading as the league’s No. 2 cornerback, per Pro Football Focus, and ranked as PFR’s No. 1 free agent when the market opened.A.J. Bouye (Vertical)

Due to his productivity and his age (he just turned 26 last week), Bouye generated a great deal of interest, as the Colts, Titans, Bears, Buccaneers, Jets, Eagles, and Texans all inquired on the free agent corner. Jacksonville, though, has never been afraid to open up its checkbook for top-of-the-market deals, and made Bouye the eighth-highest-paid cornerback in terms of annual salary — he ranks fourth in guarantees at $26MM. Now paired with Ramsey, who lived up to his fourth overall draft status during his rookie campaign, Bouye gives the Jaguars one of the league’s best secondaries.

Church will join Ramsey and Bouye in the back-end of Jacksonville’s defense, and while he’s not an elite athlete on the level of the Jaguars’ starting corners, Church is a sound, reliable safety who should provide capable play for the duration of his four-year contract. Since becoming a starter in 2013, the 29-year-old Church has started 59 of a possible 64 games, and while he missed four contests in 2016, that was due to a freak injury (broken arm) and not a nagging ailment. Jacksonville not only now boasts an an outstanding defensive backfield, but faces the third-easiest schedule of opposing offenses, according to Warren Sharp‘s 2017 NFL Preview.

The Jaguars didn’t stop adding to their defense after upgrading the secondary, as the club also targeted reinforcements along the front four. Calais Campbell was the best interior defensive lineman available during the free agent period, and Jacksonville convinced him to move to northern Florida instead of Denver (Campbell reportedly narrowed his choice to the Jaguars and Broncos). While Campbell is an extremely talented player against both the run and pass, it’s fair to question the wisdom of signing a near-31-year-old to a four-year pact that contains $30MM in guaranteed money. The deal contains a signing bonus of just $6MM, so Jacksonville can exit the contract after two years, but it’s certainly a risky proposition. In 2017, expect Campbell to play end on early downs before sliding inside on passing plays.

Campbell is a new addition to the Jaguars’ defensive line, while Abry Jones will be returning to Jacksonville for a fifth consecutive season. Jones, who at age-25 is five years younger than Campbell, re-signed with the Jags in February, well before free agency actually opened. I can’t help but wonder if he could’ve landed a larger contract by waiting and meeting with other teams, and Jacksonville may have orchestrated a steal. Jones is an exceptional run defender and played on nearly half the Jaguars’ defensive snaps a year ago, but his contract is essentially equal to that of the Jets’ Steve McLendon, who is a vastly inferior player.Mychal Rivera

While the Jaguars didn’t spend extravagantly on the offensive side of the ball, a couple of veterans could end up playing relatively impactful roles. Tight end Mychal Rivera once posted 58 receptions for the Raiders, but consistently saw his role dwindle over the past two years. While Jacksonville ran of ton of three wide receiver formations last season (75% of plays, 15% above league average), that percentage could fall in the early weeks of the season as Marqise Lee recovers from a high ankle sprain. Without an established No. 3 wideout, it’s possible the Jaguars could use more two tight end sets, potentially giving Rivera an opportunity to make an impression.

Patrick Omameh may also see his responsibilities enhanced, as Branden Albert‘s release means rookie Cam Robinson will now start at left tackle, leaving a vacancy at left guard that Omameh figures to fill. Omameh, who received a guarantee of just $100K, will be the weak link on Jacksonville’s offense line, but he’s not a disaster, as PFF ranked him as the No. 31 guard in the NFL last season. However, PFF gave Omameh poor run-blocking marks, and given the Jaguars’ intention to lean on the running game in 2017, the club may need to search for other options on the left side. Austin Pasztor, who just signed with the Falcons last week, would have been an intriguing signing.

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Offseason In Review: Pittsburgh Steelers

After qualifying for their first AFC championship game in six seasons, the Steelers are once again positioned as one of the NFL’s best teams. They are firmly in the conversation as being the top AFC challenger to the Patriots and have as good of a case as any team in that group to possess the best shot at dethroning them.

But while the Patriots made several key additions this offseason, the Steelers continued their cautious approach to outside augmentation. The team fans will see this season is largely the same as what Pittsburgh supporters observed in 2016. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing given the success 2016 brought, the Patriots having appeared to improve stands to make the Steelers’ task at reaching their first Super Bowl in seven years more difficult.

Pittsburgh, though, did have several notable moments during the offseason — one headlined by seminal contract outcomes for their top skill-position talents.

Notable signings:

Bell and the Steelers couldn’t come to terms on an agreement, and the star running back remains a holdout. While he’s expected back before the season, this is not an ideal situation. The Steelers reportedly offered the All-Pro talent a competitive deal worth $60MM over five years. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reported the proposal included $30MM in Years 1-2 and $42MM by Year 3. As a result of the impasse going past July 17, and one that possibly featured Bell reneging on an agreed-upon contract, the sides can’t discuss a long-term deal until after this season.

The 25-year-old running back reportedly wanted a deal that also reflected his value to the Steelers as a receiver. While it’s true Bell (227 career catches) is essentially Pittsburgh’s No. 2 wideout, that’s become part of the job description for modern-day backs. It’s not as if this skill is overlooked by front offices, with backs who cannot threaten defenses aerially having tougher times getting work. Bell is one of the best there is at this discipline, but turning down a deal that would have placed him on his own financial tier is a risk, especially given his history with injuries and suspensions.

The NFL’s suspended Bell twice for substance abuse, and he’s now undergone knee and groin surgeries over the past two years. His window to sign a mammoth pact like the one reportedly offered is decreasing, especially considering how the Steelers use him. Bell averaged 28 touches per game during the 12 games be played in 2016. That workload will be tough to sustain.

However, the Steelers were willing to pay Bell $14MM on average over the first three years of this deal. His tag amount would be $14.5MM in 2018, and the Steelers — without a replacement lined up — may be amendable to that figure. If so, Bell taking the Kirk Cousins approach would pocket him nearly $30MM in two years. No other running back can match that kind of earning power. But another injury puts these hopes in jeopardy, so Bell not agreeing to long-term security now could be a pivotal moment in his career.

Other than this, free agency went pretty much as it usually does for Pittsburgh. The build-from-within franchise secured a host of role players’ returns with low-level deals and brought back Harrison again.

Now 39, Harrison remains the oldest defender in the league. He was a revelation for the AFC North champs last season, ranking as Pro Football Focus’ No. 10 edge defender — ahead of prime talents like Jason Pierre-Paul, Ryan Kerrigan and Bruce Irvin. Pittsburgh also used Harrison on 758 snaps. The workout warrior may be near the end of the line, but the Steelers still figure to coax some final months (or years?) of quality football from the 2008 defensive player of the year. Linebackers coach Joey Porter did say he plans to use the veteran as a “relief pitcher” behind the younger talents this season, though.

Jones will be back to serve as Ben Roethlisberger‘s backup for a third straight season. While the Steelers’ capabilities diminish considerably when Big Ben is out, as he generally is at some point during a season, Jones has been in Todd Haley‘s system for five years now. Jones’ completion rate jumped three percentage points, to 61 percent, last season. He fared better than he did in the past, but the Steelers drafted another quarterback to put Jones on notice. However, for 2017, Jones is probably still the franchise’s QB2.

When compared to the Patriots’ offseason additions — Brandin Cooks, Stephon Gilmore, Dwayne Allen and Co. — or the Raiders’ (Marshawn Lynch, Jared Cook, Cordarrelle Patterson), the Steelers’ approach places a premium on draft work. And it’s arguable this lack of action to plug holes, especially on defense, is doing Roethlisberger a disservice. With the 35-year-old passer now on a year-to-year arrangement, Steelers management isn’t exactly maximizing the championship window the quarterback’s given the team the way other AFC frontrunners have in recent years.

That said, the Steelers’ methods continue to produce winning teams. It’s just debatable if this offseason caution has restricted them from matching up with conference powers in January during this decade.

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Offseason In Review: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Last year’s Buccaneers didn’t break the club’s decade-long streak of sitting at home during the postseason, but they did post their best record since 2010. Under first-year head coach Dirk Koetter, quarterback Jameis Winston showed marked improvement, while Tampa Bay’s defense also posted better results under new coordinator Mike Smith. With an eye towards earning a playoff berth for first time since the Jon Gruden era, the Buccaneers entered the offseason with clear goals in mind.

Notable signings:

While the Buccaneers passing offense ranked a respectable 12th in DVOA last season, the unit didn’t post many explosive plays, as Tampa Bay finished 24th in 20+ yard receptions and dead last in 40+ yard catches. Mike Evans, Adam Humphries, and Cameron Brate formed the foundation of a solid passing game, but a new dimension was clearly needed. Enter DeSean Jackson, who lead the league in yards per reception in 2016, the third time he’s done so in his nine-year career. Among receivers with at least 40 receptions last season, Jackson ranked third with 12.82 air yards per catch, meaning he’s able to get open down the field and not simply rely on yards after the catch. He also accounted for 145 yards and four first downs by drawing pass interference penalties, an underrated facet of his game. Although he’s on the wrong side of 30, Jackson is exactly what the Buccaneers offense needs, and he should be worth of every penny of a contract that makes him the ninth-highest-paid wideout in the NFL.Jacquizz Rodgers (Vertical)

Joining Jackson as an offensive starter (at least for the first three games of the season) will be running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who earned the first multi-year contract of his career after averaging 4.3 yards per carry on 129 rushes a season ago. Rodgers, 27, touched the ball more than he had in any prior season, and was a workhorse for Tampa Bay in Weeks 5-7, rushing the ball 75 times during that span. He’ll be the Buccaneers’ lead back to begin the campaign while Doug Martin finishes a suspension, and Rodgers could keep the starting job for even longer, as general manager Jason Licht recently indicated Martin won’t be handed a role when he returns.

While the Bucs are comfortable rolling with Rodgers until Martin comes back, they surely won’t feel the same way if they’re forced to use new backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick for any extended period of time. That being said, Fitzpatrick isn’t a disaster as a reserve option, especially at a price of only $3MM. Yes, Fitzpatrick posted the worst statistics of any starting quarterback not named Matt Barkley or Jared Goff in 2016, but he’s not being asked to start in Tampa Bay. If Jameis Winston is sidelined next year, Fitzpatrick should at least be able to keep the club’s offense afloat.

On defense, the Buccaneers acted quickly to re-sign defensive end William Gholston, who was said to be a priority for the team in free agency. At first glance, Gholston’s five-year contract appears to be a massive overpay, as his $5.5MM annual salary is exorbitant for a run-stuffer who ranked as a bottom-20 edge defender in 2016, per Pro Football Focus. But because Tampa Bay rarely employs signing bonuses, Gholston’s deal is essentially a one-year pact. All of his $7MM guarantee comes in 2017, and the Buccaneers could cut ties after the season without any dead money incurring on their cap. If Tampa is able to land a top-notch pass rusher in next year’s draft, I’d expect Gholston to be on the chopping block.

New defensive tackle Chris Baker will be lining up next to Gholston after the Bucs lured him away from the nation’s capital with a three-year agreement, and he should be able to help out a Tampa Bay run defense that took a major step backward under first-year defensive coordinator Mike Smith. While the Buccaneers’ pass defense improved from 26th in DVOA to sixth, the club’s prowess against the run slipped from ninth in DVOA to 26th, while Tampa’s defensive line ranked 24th in adjusted line yards. Baker is a stud in the run game, but he’s also adept at getting after opposing quarterbacks, as he ranked 11th among defensive tackles with 16 hurries last season.J.J. Wilcox (Vertical)

Chris Conte keeps getting chances despite grading as one of the least capable safeties in the league for the duration of his career. Last season, PFF ranked Conte as the second-worst safety in the NFL, but the Buccaneers still re-signed him to a two-year pact. Thankfully, Tampa Bay isn’t asking Conte to play a full complement of snaps in 2017, as they’ve signed former Cowboy J.J. Wilcox and drafted Justin Evans in the second round. Wilcox, 26, only played half of Dallas’ defensive snaps a season ago, but had significant starting experience in 2014-15. Josh Robinson is back to help out in the secondary, as well, but most of his time will be spent as a gunner on special teams.

Tampa Bay signed kicker Nick Folk to hedge against Roberto Aguayo‘s struggles, and the move now seems prescient following Aguayo’ release. Although Tampa handed Folk a $750K guarantee, the club was only nominally on the hook for that money — had Folk been cut, he likely would’ve been picked up by another team, and the offset language in his deal would have freed the Bucs from his commitment. The Jets, Folk’s former employer, ranked dead last in special teams DVOA last season, but that wasn’t Folk’s fault, as he converted 87.1% of his kicks (including 50% from 50+ yards) and gave New York 0.3 points of field position. He didn’t do well on kickoffs, however, as he ranked just 23rd among kickers with 39 touchbacks.

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