Offseason In Review

Offseason In Review: Kansas City Chiefs

Although the Chiefs’ Super Bowl IV team and multiple other squads from that period housed a whopping six Hall of Fame defenders, it is safe to say the Andy ReidPatrick Mahomes stretch represents the franchise’s peak. The Chiefs, who entered the 2017 season having never won back-to-back AFC West titles, enter 2022 with six straight division crowns. During the Mahomes leg of this reign, the Chiefs have not encountered much divisional resistance. They have become the only team to host four consecutive conference championship games.

But the rest of the division spent the offseason loading up to challenge the Chiefs, whose 2022 edition will look a bit different. Reid and GM Brett Veach moved two cornerstone players — Tyreek Hill and Tyrann Mathieu — off the roster, trading Hill and letting Mathieu walk in free agency. Kansas City was busy at both positions this offseason. How much will these retooling efforts and rivals’ big-ticket moves — one of which having a direct impact on the Chiefs’ plans — impact the perennial Super Bowl contenders’ 2022 season?

Trades:

The Chiefs had begun Hill extension talks in the weeks leading up to free agency. One year remained on the field-tilting speedster’s contract. But the Raiders soon acquired Davante Adams from the Packers, changing the equation not just for Hill but for the entire wide receiver market. The Chiefs balked at Hill’s new demands, which increased after Adams agreed to a then-receiver-record $28MM-per-year deal. Kansas City quickly pivoted to the trade market, leading to Jets and Dolphins offers. After a Jets proposal — one that did not feature any first-round picks but included two second-rounders — nearly sent Hill to New York, the Dolphins came in with a trade including the No. 29 overall pick and an extension (four years, $120MM) that topped Adams’ accord.

Of the offseason’s marquee wideout trades, Hill fetched his former team the most in terms of compensation. At 28, Hill is more than a year younger than Adams and possesses a skillset pairing historically elite speed with legit receiving chops — something most players in Hill’s speed realm have lacked throughout NFL annals. Hill will now entrust his Hall of Fame push to Tua Tagovailoa, while the Chiefs will be tasked with an interesting restart at the position.

It remains fascinating a Chiefs rival changed the AFC West kingpins’ path with one of their best players. Hill said he did not ask the Chiefs for an extension that topped Adams’ AAV but did ask the team for a deal in the $25-$26MM-AAV range. A vital piece during Alex Smith‘s final Chiefs season and to start Mahomes’ rapid ascent, Hill became an All-Pro on a Day 3 contract. The 2019 child-abuse scandal, which came years after a domestic violence arrest eventually dropped Hill to the 2016 fifth round, nearly led to a Chiefs divorce. But after no NFL suspension emerged, the team welcomed its deep threat back and gave him an $18MM-per-year deal — on a team-friendly structure as a result of his second off-field controversy. Hill outplayed that deal, stringing together three more Pro Bowl seasons. But the Chiefs joined the Packers and Titans in letting another team pay their top wide receiver at the new WR1 going rate.

This separation could be a seminal moment on the Chiefs’ timeline, considering the attention defenses paid to Hill. Teams increasingly moved to prevent Mahomes-to-Hill deep strikes last season, something that the receiver later confirmed caused internal frustration. This trade represents the biggest offensive change of the Mahomes era and presents some risk, given the Chiefs’ momentum and non-Hill issues at the position since Reid arrived.

Reid’s other receiver investments in Kansas City have largely not worked out. The 2013 Dwayne Bowe extension backfired, as the previous Chiefs WR1’s skills deteriorated quickly, and the Chiefs cut bait on Jeremy Maclin after two seasons. Sammy Watkins came up big in spots, but frequent injuries suffered in Kansas City have led to the former top-five pick’s value freefall. Drafted in the second round while Hill was barred from the team’s facility, Mecole Hardman has not panned out. Though, the fourth-year wideout may have a more prominent role as the team attempts an interesting post-Hill wideout configuration.

The Johnson flier resembles those the Chiefs took on former first-round cornerbacks Mike Hughes and Deandre Baker. A 2019 second-rounder, Johnson has one year remaining on his rookie contract. He is coming off a career-best three interceptions in 2021, but the young DB — whom the Texans used at corner and safety — fell out of favor in Houston. Pro Football Focus viewed Johnson as one of the NFL’s worst defensive backs during his Texans tenure. The advanced metrics website graded Johnson as the league’s worst primary cornerback in 2019 and slotted him as (by far) the league’s worst safety contributor last season, helping explain the 2024 seventh-round return.

Notable signings:

As Tyrann Mathieu lingered in free agency, the Chiefs quickly signaled they were not bringing him back for a fourth season by committing to Reid during the legal tampering period. Mathieu had also made a Houston-to-Kansas City trek, though Reid played his entire rookie contract with the Texans. Pro Football Focus barely rated Reid above Johnson last year, grading the former as the sixth-worst full-time safety. PFF offered much better assessments for the former third-round pick during his first two seasons, when the Texans booked playoff spots.

While the Chiefs are saving money here compared to Mathieu’s $14MM-per-year deal, the proven veteran is only tied to a $9MM-AAV contract with the Saints. Reid, however, is five years younger, at 25. DC Steve Spagnuolo will bet on the player with more prime years remaining.

Following the Reid accord, the Chiefs began work on their receiving corps. For a short stretch, it looked like Smith-Schuster would complement Hill. The wideouts overlapped as Chiefs teammates for over a week, and considering the Raiders extension’s effect on the AFC West champs, it can be assumed Kansas City at least envisioned a reality in which ex-Pittsburgh slot talent played alongside Hill and Travis Kelce. Smith-Schuster now stands to play a more important role for the Chiefs, but they have eyed the former Pro Bowler for a bit now.

The Chiefs finished second in the Smith-Schuster sweepstakes last year; the USC product prioritized familiarity with the Steelers to better position him for the 2022 market. That decision backfired. Ben Roethlisberger continued to decline, but Smith-Schuster was not there to see much of that deterioration manifest due to the Week 5 shoulder injury he suffered. Still, Andy Reid attempting to lure him last year and coming back to the table in 2022 — despite JuJu’s five-game season — is notable. The Chiefs have not had a consistent slot weapon during Mahomes’ time, though Hill would align there at points. Still just 25, Smith-Schuster has not been able to replicate the 2018 dominance he displayed alongside Antonio Brown, failing to come within 500 yards of that 1,431-yard year. But being paired with one of the game’s best quarterbacks and arguably its premier play-caller could reignite him.

Shortly after the Hill trade, the Chiefs poached the Packers’ top vertical threat. Valdes-Scantling has not caught more than 38 passes in a season, but the 2018 fifth-round pick’s deep capabilities produced a market. The Packers bowed out but were interested in keeping him. MVS led the NFL with a 20.9 yards-per-catch number in 2020, when he caught six touchdown passes. Like Hill, Valdes-Scantling has dealt with drop issues. He finished sixth in drop rate in 2020 but largely curbed that problem last season. Despite coming into the league three years after Hill, MVS, 28, is only a few months younger.

This contract doubles as a prove-it deal, with the Chiefs not guaranteeing anything into Year 2. Only Valdes-Scantling’s prorated signing bonus would count as dead money if the Chiefs moved on in 2023; they would be tagged with $4MM if they did so. For 2022, however, Valdes-Scantling will be a discounted deep target — albeit one with a larger catch radius than Hill, due to a 6-foot-4 frame. MVS joins Hardman and Skyy Moore as field-stretchers for the Chiefs, who will trot out a near-fully reshuffled receiving corps.

Wylie and Christian may be battling for the team’s right tackle gig, a position that has seen inconsistency since Mitchell Schwartz‘s ironman streak ended during the 2020 campaign. The Chiefs have locked-in starters at each of the other four O-line spots. PFF rated each of the Chiefs’ three right-edge options, a list that also includes 2020 third-rounder Lucas Niang, between 60th and 70th at tackle last season. Christian started eight games for the Texans in 2021. Niang might not factor prominently in the upcoming training camp competition. The 2020 COVID-19 opt-out suffered a torn patellar tendon in Week 17 of last season. Its right tackle situation is far from ideal, but Kansas City does have one of the league’s most enviable O-line situations on the whole.

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Offseason In Review: Indianapolis Colts

After Indianapolis’ seven-Pro Bowler squad was poised to become the sixth non-strike-year team to go from 0-3 to the playoffs, a collapse nixed that distinction and brought more change. An irate Jim Irsay led the way to the Colts again making a switch at quarterback, swiftly pivoting from Carson Wentz and bringing in Matt Ryan.

When Ryan makes his Indianapolis debut in Week 1, the Colts will join an exclusive club. Fewer than 10 teams since 1970’s AFL-NFL merger have started six straight seasons with different Week 1 QBs. Entering this offseason, that list stood at five. It will balloon to eight, largely because of Irsay’s Wentz-related directive. Both the Colts and Commanders, along with the Broncos, will go into a sixth straight season with a different starting quarterback. Will Ryan be the one that stops this carousel and makes a quality Indianapolis roster relevant in the Super Bowl chase?

Trades:

Indianapolis’ past six Week 1 starters certainly outdistance Denver and Washington’s sextets for star power, but only Andrew Luck has won a Colts playoff game during this span. A franchise that had Peyton Manning start every game for 13 years and rostered Luck for seven more has moved from Scott Tolzien to Luck to Jacoby Brissett to Philip Rivers to Wentz to Ryan over the past six openers. Brissett worked as the team’s primary starter over this span, but the team has since made three high-profile QB moves. The latest caused the most ripples.

Shortly after the Broncos submitted their top post-Manning QB-fix measure, acquiring Russell Wilson, the Colts sent Wentz to Washington. To say Irsay soured on Wentz would be understating the team’s transition. After giving up first- and second-round picks for the ex-Frank Reich Eagles pupil, the Colts were put off by the QB’s leadership struggles, his refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and his being at the center of one of the NFL’s worst collapses in years.

Based on the tepid markets that emerged for Baker Mayfield and Jimmy Garoppolo, the Colts collecting a haul of three Day 2 picks for Wentz represents a coup for GM Chris Ballard, who benefited from Ryan’s desire to relocate to Indianapolis. As the Falcons ate an NFL-record $40.52MM in dead money by trading Ryan, the Colts did not take on any for moving Wentz.

Deshaun Watson fallout immediately hit Carolina, Atlanta and New Orleans, but Indiana soon felt the impact of the seismic trade. Ten years ago, the 49ers made a strong push for Manning. Days after the QB legend picked the Broncos, the 49ers extended then-starter Alex Smith as a patching-up effort of sorts. The Falcons took the opposite path with Ryan. After the team’s Watson meetings leaked out, Falcons GM Terry Fontenot let Ryan speak with the Colts. The talks led quickly to a deal for a mere third-round pick.

To tally an early scorecard here, here is how the compensation packages rank for starting QBs this offseason:

  1. The Texans received three first-rounders, a third and two fourths for Watson
  2. The Seahawks collected two firsts, two seconds, a fifth and three players (Noah Fant, Shelby Harris, Drew Lock) for Wilson
  3. The Colts landed a second-round pick, a third and either a 2023 second or third for Wentz
  4. The Falcons recouped this year’s No. 82 overall pick for Ryan
  5. The Browns managed a 2024 fourth- or fifth-rounder for Mayfield

Following the Ryan trade, the Falcons regrouped with Marcus Mariota. The Saints then retained Jameis Winston, whom the Colts discussed a deal with during their 12-day period between Wentz and Ryan. Just as they did after releasing Manning in 2012 (leading to Luck at No. 1 overall) and letting Brissett walk in 2020 (leading to Rivers), the Colts regrouped well. Considering what has happened in Denver and Washington in recent years, Indianapolis has enjoyed good fortune in filling its QB1 gig.

The Colts are already willing to commit to Ryan for two seasons, despite the former MVP entering his age-37 campaign. How Ryan fares this season will determine how quickly Indianapolis needs to consider making a significant draft investment at the position — one it has continually addressed with stopgap measures post-Luck.

Reich has raved about Ryan’s initial Indy offseason, but the 2016 MVP/Super Bowl LI starter has gone five years without even making the Pro Bowl as an alternate. Perhaps exposing some flaws in ESPN’s Total QBR metric, Wentz (ninth) ranked 12 spots ahead of Ryan in 2021. Ryan, however, ranked 16th (2020), 14th (2019) and ninth (2018) in the previous three years. The Falcons also saddled their aging, immobile passer with one of the NFL’s worst offensive lines and, after Calvin Ridley‘s early-season departure, had lost both their talented receiver starters (Ridley and Julio Jones) in four months. Last season probably should not be used as a primary gauge on Ryan, who has proven durable (one career missed game) and above-average passer throughout his career.

The Colts will outfit the steady signal-caller with an offensive line featuring three high-end blockers (Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly, Braden Smith) and a running back (Jonathan Taylor) who won the 2021 rushing title by 552 yards — the biggest gap since Chris Johnson led the league by 590 in 2009. Then again, the Colts do not exactly have many answers at their skill positions beyond Michael Pittman Jr. But Reich coaxed a 27-to-7 touchdown pass-to-interception ratio from Wentz, a more erratic passer compared to Ryan. Barring a notable skill diminishment, it should be a good bet Ryan can better complement the Colts’ well-rounded roster. Though, another wide receiver addition certainly would help.

Although the Colts ranked eighth in 2021 defensive DVOA, no player recorded more than seven sacks. No defensive end currently on Indy’s roster registered more than Kwity Paye‘s four. The Colts opted not to replace Justin Houston with a veteran last season, but they smartly reversed course here a year later. Ngakoue will team with Gus Bradley in a third city, after the two worked together in Jacksonville and Las Vegas, and provide the Colts with a proven edge rusher.

Positioning themselves as the beneficiary of the Raiders replacing Ngakoue, 27, with a 32-year-old Chandler Jones, the Colts have a prime-years edge rusher with five seasons of at least eight sacks on his resume. Ngakoue (10 2021 sacks) tied for 16th (with Jones) with 36 QB pressures last season, when he ranked 14th with 12 QB knockdowns. Ngakoue’s 47.5 sacks since 2017 are tied for sixth in the NFL.

His presence alongside DeForest Buckner will benefit Paye and 2021 second-rounder Dayo Odeyingbo, with the seventh-year veteran’s scheme familiarity being an added bonus in this equation. Given Ngakoue’s fit with Bradley, it would not surprise if the Colts entered extension talks. One season, on a $13MM cap number, remains on former third-rounder’s Raiders-constructed deal.

Big on extending their own under Ballard, the Colts punted on a Ya-Sin re-up. Despite taking on more money by trading a rookie deal for a veteran contract, the Colts added a scheme fit and a more consistent defender. Ya-Sin will also cost more in 2023, as the Raiders now have the former second-rounder in a contract year. Landing Ngakoue here is better than a mere 2024 compensatory pick, though Ya-Sin’s departure forced the Colts to start over at outside cornerback.

Notable signings:

Moving on from both their starting outside cornerbacks from last year — Ya-Sin and Xavier Rhodes — the Colts will bet on Gilmore having at least one more quality season in him. Indianapolis’ Gilmore contract was out of step with what other 30-something corners Patrick Peterson and Casey Hayward received in free agency, but the former Patriots stopper is not too far removed from authoring one of the most dominant seasons in modern cornerback history. Since Gilmore’s 2019 Defensive Player of the Year campaign (six INTs, 44.1 passer rating as the closest defender), however, he missed 12 games because of a quad injury. While Gilmore played only 304 defensive snaps with the Panthers last season (two INTs, 78.6 passer rating allowed), Pro Football Focus rated him just outside the top 10 at the position.

Gilmore played out the five-year, $65MM deal he signed with the Patriots in 2017 and elevated his profile considerably on that contract. The Patriots signed off on a 2020 raise as well. But Gilmore, like Chandler Jones, did miss out on joining his peers atop the market while he excelled on what became a team-friendly accord.

This Colts payday comes in well below where Gilmore, who expressed dissatisfaction with his contract during the 2020 and ’21 offseasons, sought to be. Gilmore’s path illustrates the risk of signing long-term deals, but while the 11th-year defender was unable to climb to the Jalen Ramsey earnings tier, the Colts guarantee bumps him past $90MM in career earnings. Not too bad. Indianapolis was able to revive Rhodes’ value, but with both he and Ya-Sin gone, the team is counting on Gilmore (32 in September) to remain an upper-echelon player.

Like Ngakoue, Facyson, 27, will join Bradley in a third city. The former Chargers and Raiders corner started nine games with Las Vegas last year but made just four starts over the previous three seasons. The Colts will ask either Facyson, a former UDFA, or 2020 sixth-rounder Isaiah Rodgers to start alongside Gilmore. Regardless of who wins this battle, the Colts’ CB2 spot will feature less experience. While Pro Bowl slot man Kenny Moore anchors Indianapolis’ corner crew, Gilmore staying healthy appears paramount to the team’s 2022 defensive success.

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Offseason In Review: Las Vegas Raiders

The Raiders’ first playoff berth in five years and second since 2002 included a minus-65 point differential and a 21st-place DVOA ranking. The Broncos and Chargers then loaded up their rosters in the offseason, with the likes of Russell Wilson, Khalil Mack and J.C. Jackson entering the AFC West. Along with the Chiefs, who were largely responsible for the Raiders’ historically bad (for a playoff entrant) point differential, the other two Raider rivals’ reloads increase the degree of difficulty for the Silver and Black in 2022.

But Las Vegas’ offseason did not signal a short-term step back as part of a bigger-picture plan. The Raiders’ moves indicate their new regime believes this is a team on the cusp. Davante Adams and Chandler Jones trekking to Vegas rounds out what figures to be one of the more fascinating divisional races in modern NFL history. The Raiders will enter that derby with more preseason hype than they’ve received in nearly 20 years.

Trades:

The Deshaun Watson trade doubled as the offseason’s highest-profile move, aided by the many controversies it spurred. But the Raiders’ decision to reunite Adams and Derek Carr produced the biggest fallout. The ex-Packers All-Pro’s $28MM-per-year contract is a somewhat deceiving deal that includes two whopping salaries ($35.6MM and $35.7MM) in its final two years to move the AAV past DeAndre Hopkins‘ previous high-water mark. The extension still calls for nearly $66MM to be guaranteed by March 2023, and Green Bay’s tag-and-trade maneuver triggered a receiver-market earthquake.

Most notably, the Raiders’ decision led Tyreek Hill out of the AFC West. The Chiefs’ unrivaled speed threat raised his asking price following the Adams accord. Rookie Raiders GM Dave Ziegler could deserve gamesmanship points for that ancillary consequence, with Hill leaving Kansas City for Miami less than a week later. On the field, Adams will be the best wideout of Carr’s career and probably (depending on how you feel about Wes Welker) the top receiver to play in a Josh McDaniels system since Randy Moss.

Adams arrived in Vegas with considerable momentum, with his back-to-back All-Pros aiding Aaron Rodgers to consecutive MVPs. Although Adams and Carr famously played together at Fresno State, we will soon learn more about Rodgers’ impact on Adams’ NFL success. The situations are different, but the Raiders acquiring Jordy Nelson (at 33) did not go well. The prospect of Vegas unleashing the well-rounded Adams-Hunter RenfrowDarren Waller trio on secondaries presents tremendous intrigue. The modern Raiders have not deployed a troika quite like this, which should keep Carr’s mid-career rise on course.

Betting on a receiver remaining elite into his early 30s is a risk the Raiders were willing to take, with the Adams deal’s practical guarantees running through 2024. (The ninth-year veteran turns 30 in December.) Of the top 35 receiving yardage numbers since 2012, only two came from 30-somethings (Andre Johnson and Brandon Marshall, both at 31).

For a minute (literally, as the transactions came seconds apart) a strange reality in which the Raiders rostered Ngakoue, Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones unveiled itself. But the team quickly revealed its plans by making Ngakoue, 27, a Vegas one-and-done. Ngakoue and Jones totaled 36 pressures last season, but the former will follow Gus Bradley from Nevada to Indiana. Ngakoue, who will play for Bradley in a third city, worked as a fine Crosby sidekick in tallying 10 sacks and two forced fumbles. The Raiders are betting Jones, despite being five years older, will be a better Crosby edge bookend.

Ya-Sin is coming off his best season, which Pro Football Focus ranked as a top-30 campaign among 2021 cornerbacks. The Raiders now have a contract-year corner to evaluate. Ya-Sin is expected to team with Trayvon Mullen outside, with potential slot standout Nate Hobbs accompanying them on most downs. The Raiders effectively chose Ya-Sin, a 2019 second-rounder, over giving Casey Hayward a slight raise.

Edwards’ exit leaves the Raiders without their first six picks from the 2020 draft. The former third-round pick follows first-rounder Henry Ruggs (waived in November 2021), first-rounder Damon Arnette (waived in November 2021), third-rounder Tanner Muse (waived in September 2021) and third-rounder Lynn Bowden Jr. (traded in September 2020) in not making it to Year 3 with the Raiders. The 6-foot-3 target showed a bit more promise as an NFL sophomore (571 receiving yards), but the Ziegler-McDaniels pair identified outside help to staff the team’s tertiary receiver spots.

Notable signings:

Low-cost performers, including a batch of ex-Patriots, came to Vegas in droves this year. But the team spent notable cash on a couple of defenders. Jones fronts that pack, with the six-year Cardinal committing to the NFL’s other desert city. Similar to the Adams trade, the Raiders are betting on the back end of a star’s prime. With Crosby rushing on the other side and a slew of ex-New England staffers running the Raiders now, this is probably the ideal locale for Jones (107.5 career sacks) to maximize his early 30s and push for a Hall of Fame spot. McDaniels, Ziegler and new DC Patrick Graham were with the Patriots throughout Jones’ four-year Foxborough run.

Jones’ 2020 biceps injury and the ex-first-rounder’s age during his Cards contract year worked against him maximizing his value. The two-time All-Pro watched several younger edge rushers pass his 2017 extension. T.J. Watt has since moved the position’s AAV ceiling to $28MM. Jones’ All-Pro seasons came in 2017 and ’19, and while earning $16.5MM on average for five years is nothing to complain about, the Syracuse product’s bad timing kept him from a salary tier he probably deserved to infiltrate. But Jones still did well to cash in with the Raiders, who guaranteed the first two years of his $17MM-AAV deal.

Jones, 32, did enough to earn All-Decade acclaim and bounced back from his injury with a 10.5-sack 2021 season. Granted, five of those came in one game — a Week 1 barrage against the Titans, the first game after Cardinals management did not grant his offseason trade request — but Jones’ 26 QB hits matched his 2019 season. The Raiders have rostered Khalil Mack, the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year, and deployed the Ngakoue-Crosby duo for a year. But Crosby and Jones being signed long-term together forms what is probably the team’s top edge duo this century.

The Titans did not make Brown an offseason priority, letting him go for barely the league minimum. But coverage is the four-year starter’s strong suit. Considering Brown signed for $5.3MM last year and rated as a top-20 PFF linebacker from 2018-20, this could be a quality buy-low bet. Brown, 27, could play a three-down role alongside Denzel Perryman. Injuries over the past two years dropped Brown’s price, but linebackers with his skillset and resume are worth more than $1MM.

Hollins, Cole and Robinson will tag in to fill the spots of Edwards, DeSean Jackson and Zay Jones. While McDaniels will surely flood his top three skill-position players with targets, the Raiders did not draft a receiver. Openings for Carr’s Nos. 3 and 4 wideouts exist.

Cole, 29, comes in with the most experience, having led the Jaguars’ surprising AFC championship game-qualifying outfit in receiving (748 yards). The Division III product showed deep-threat capabilities in 2017, with 17.8 yards per reception, but has not matched that output since. Robinson is accustomed to seeing favorable coverage, having been on a team with Hill and Travis Kelce throughout his career. Jones and Edwards ranked in the top 15 in 2021 average depth of target (14.0 yards apiece). Seeing how the post-Ruggs/D-Jax Raiders dial up deep opportunities and round out their receiving corps will be somewhat interesting to start this season.

Similar to the incoming wideouts, the Raiders shuffled out their interior D-linemen. Well, save for Hankins, who has now signed four Raiders contracts during a five-year tenure. A fifth-round pick, Nichols broke into the Bears’ starting lineup as a rookie — on a defense full of veteran front-seven contracts — and remained part of the team’s upper-echelon, Mitchell Trubisky-restricted defenses from 2019-20. Nichols racked up eight sacks and 22 QB hits over the past two seasons. The Raiders did not stop with Nichols, adding four more vets (Butler, Lancaster, Kyle Peko and Andrew Billings) and drafting two interior D-linemen on Day 3. Las Vegas ranked 19th against the run last season.

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Offseason In Review: Los Angeles Chargers

This year marks the final season Justin Herbert must play on a rookie contract. That gives the Chargers both a significant roster-building advantage while also raising the stakes for this season. Through two years, Herbert has displayed future MVP-caliber talent. But the Chargers have little to show for it, having gone 16-17 over the past two years. The organization is clearly making a point to capitalize on Herbert’s rookie deal. Major upgrades, mostly on defense, give the Bolts — frequent providers of letdowns after preseason hype — far more appeal as a true contender than they have been in recent years.

The Chargers have often carried quality quarterbacks, rostering Hall of Famer Dan Fouts, Canton-bound Drew Brees and potential inductee Philip Rivers over the past 40 years. The team has one Super Bowl appearance to show for this (and it came during Stan Humphries‘ stint). Last year’s Pro Bowl starter, Herbert is on the Fouts-Brees-Rivers stardom track. Herbert’s first two seasons not only dwarf that trio’s starts but compare favorably to just about any quarterback in league history. While the 24-year-old QB has plenty of time to push for Super Bowls, 2022 does look like a key point on his timeline — due to the rookie-contract component. In a deep AFC, will the Bolts’ upgrade efforts pay off?

Trades:

Tom Telesco‘s team struck early, making a pre-free agency trade for one of Brandon Staley‘s most talented ex-charges. The Bears sent the Raiders a package highlighted by two first-round picks for Mack in 2018; the price the Bolts paid revealed the league’s current view of the veteran edge rusher. But the Chargers provide Mack with a unique bounce-back opportunity, with he and Joey Bosa poised to be one of the most talented edge defender duos in modern NFL history.

Mack and Bosa carry 10 Pro Bowls between them, despite the former top-five picks respectively going into their age-31 and age-27 seasons. Although Mack is coming off a foot injury that ended his fourth Chicago season after seven games, he earned All-Pro or Pro Bowl recognition in his previous six healthy seasons. Mack, who recorded six sacks in his abbreviated 2021 slate, checked in as this year’s ninth-best edge rusher — per various NFL evaluators (via ESPN.com). Bosa sits fourth on that list. The age ranges and accomplishments here remind of the Broncos’ mid-2010s Von MillerDeMarcus Ware tandem. Like Ware, Mack settling in as a complementary pass rusher will be quite different compared to his previous roles.

Mack staying healthy would provide a major upgrade on Uchenna Nwosu, who signed with the Seahawks. Mack’s Bears-constructed deal runs through 2024. The Bears restructured Mack’s contract multiple times, leading to a sizable dead-money hit for the rebuilding franchise. Bosa on a $27MM-per-year deal and Mack on a $23.5MM-AAV accord does push the Bolts into new territory, but these are the kind of moves teams can make when equipped with a rookie-contract quarterback. Mack’s cap hit spikes from $8.75MM this year to $27.4MM in 2023, but if his reunion with Staley — his Bears position coach in 2018 — does not go as planned, the Chargers can get out of the contract with minimal damage next year.

Notable signings:

Staley’s renegade fourth-down strategies overshadowed the Charger defense’s lackluster performance in the young coach’s debut. Mostly healthy seasons from Bosa and Derwin James barely kept Staley’s unit out of last place; the Bolts’ defense ranked 29th in points allowed and 26th in DVOA. Telesco’s March additions, understandably, went mostly toward this side of the ball.

After moving up from UDFA to elite turnover producer in New England, Jackson escaped the franchise tag this year. Best known for his turnover frequency (25 career interceptions), Jackson allowed quarterbacks to sub-50 passer ratings as the closest defender in coverage in three of his four Patriots seasons. Jackson’s work over the past two years helped the Pats compensate for Stephon Gilmore‘s unavailability and eventual departure.

Bill Belichick made an exception for Gilmore, signing him to a high-end deal in 2017, but continued to let corners walk rather than commit long-term. Darrelle Revis (2015), Logan Ryan (2017), Malcolm Butler (2018), Gilmore (2021) and Jackson have all departed New England. The Chargers will hope Staley and DC Renaldo Hill can continue to coax Pro Bowl-level play from their big-ticket signing. Jackson, 26, signed for an AAV outside the top five at the position ($16.5MM). Following the Denzel Ward and Jaire Alexander deals, that figure now ranks ninth among corners. It took a $28MM Year 1 payment to entice Jackson to head to Los Angeles.

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Offseason In Review: New York Giants

A brutal stretch to close last season doubled as one of the worst in the Giants’ 100-plus-year history. It turned Joe Judge from a coach likely to see a third season — after the franchise had canned its past two HCs (Ben McAdoo and Pat Shurmur) during or after their second years — to a pink-slip recipient. The conclusion of the team’s 4-13 season — its fifth straight campaign with double-digit losses — brought in a new regime responsible for reversing a longer run of struggles.

Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll, who helped the Bills morph from a team that missed 17 consecutive playoff brackets to a perennial Super Bowl contender, are now in charge of the Giants’ rebuild. Their offseason did not involve splashy free agency work, and cost-cutting measures ensued. But the team did identify cornerstone talent with a rare draft opportunity. Still, big questions exist ahead of the franchise’s latest relaunch effort.

Notable signings:

Injuries wrecked Judge’s offensive line plan last season. By Week 1 of this year, as many as four new starters could be present up front. Glowinski and Feliciano are ticketed to be two of those. Coming off a successful tenure as the right guard for one of the NFL’s top O-lines, Glowinski will attempt to keep going into his 30s after his Colts work led to a midlevel free agency accord. Pro Football Focus graded Glowinski as a top-25 guard last season.

Despite the former Seahawks fourth-rounder only missing one game over the past three years and playing a key role in Jonathan Taylor‘s runaway 2021 rushing title, the 30-year-old blocker was unable to generate a big market. Quenton Nelson‘s former sidekick, however, should still have a couple of quality years left. Any sort of interior stability will be a change for the Giants, who have dealt with extensive injuries and underperformance inside since their Super Bowl-era O-lines splintered.

Feliciano, also 30, comes as a street free agent and clear stopgap measure. The Giants entered the offseason with so many needs it was impossible to allocate appropriate resources to filling each — especially considering the cap issues Schoen and Co. inherited. An ex-fourth-rounder like Glowinski, Feliciano has battled injuries in each of the past two seasons (15 absences in that span). But he did start 16 games for the 2019 Bills, establishing himself as a capable first-stringer after spending four years as a Raiders backup. Center could be an area Big Blue tries harder to address in 2023, but for now, Feliciano will be the team’s pivot.

Taylor is an upgrade over Mike Glennon, having been a Week 1 starter in six of the past seven seasons. Two of those years saw Taylor quickly replaced, and last season finished with Davis Mills usurping the veteran signal-caller in Houston. But Taylor has a much better resume than previous Jones backups Glennon or Colt McCoy. Given Jones’ injury history and ties to a previous regime, Taylor getting extended run this season should not be ruled out. Though, Taylor seeing the field often will both signal another plan gone awry and mark a precursor to a big QB swing in 2023.

It is interesting Schoen sought the ex-Buffalo starter, considering the current Bills regime ditched Taylor after one season — a 2017 slate that included a strange one-game benching for Nathan Peterman. But Taylor, set to play for a sixth NFL team at 33, is the only Giants passer signed beyond 2022.

Notable losses:

Stature-wise, the Giants’ departures were far more notable than their additions. No place felt the cost-cutting effects more than the secondary, which lost its two most experienced players. Given a three-year, $45MM deal in 2020, Bradberry played well in his first Giants slate and worked as the team’s No. 1 cornerback during both his New York seasons. The Giants spent several weeks dangling the Gettleman-era pickup in trades and had a deal in place with the Texans, who nixed it because they sought a Bradberry extension as part of the swap. Bradberry’s eventual release and Eagles arrival creates one of the NFL’s thinnest position groups.

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Offseason In Review: Denver Broncos

After making five straight playoff berths from 2011-15, a stretch that included four consecutive AFC byes and two Super Bowl appearances, the Broncos have drifted well off that pace. Years in quarterback wilderness followed Peyton Manning‘s 2016 retirement. But the 2022 offseason represents a significant step toward the franchise moving back onto the contender track.

This season should feature the Broncos as a more formidable operation, and it doubles as a chance to see how promising Denver’s oft-discussed skill-position corps really is. A loaded AFC West hovers over Denver’s offseason rise, but the franchise has clear reasons for optimism. A team frequently labeled as a QB away from mattering in the grand scheme now has its coveted passer.

Trades:

Linked to Aaron Rodgers for nearly a year, the Broncos began this offseason’s trade avalanche by completing a deal for a quarterback five years younger. Denver was never linked as a true Deshaun Watson suitor, and its 2021 Matthew Stafford offer was far less enticing than the one the Rams made. But the Broncos had also not been closely connected to Wilson, who left the team off his list of acceptable trade destinations during the 2021 offseason but included them (albeit quietly) later in the year. He will now have a chance to craft an interesting second act.

The Seahawks bailed midway through their franchise quarterback’s third contract, not eager to pay the new going rate for the 33-year-old star whose current $35MM-per-year deal topped the market at the time (April 2019). This opened the door for the Broncos to fill one of the NFL’s longest-standing needs. Other teams pursued the decorated QB — from the Panthers to the Eagles to the Commanders, with Washington offering three first-rounders — but Wilson only ended up waiving his no-trade clause for the Broncos.

If 2020’s Kendall Hinton-quarterbacked contest is counted, the Broncos match Washington with an NFL-most 11 starting QBs since 2016. An inability to generate above-average QB play through trades (Joe Flacco, Teddy Bridgewater), free agency (Case Keenum) or the draft (Lock, Paxton Lynch) dragged Denver from an AFC power to a team with a lower-middle-class ceiling. This descent prompted second-year GM George Paton to fork over one of the biggest trade hauls in NFL history — though a package not quite as valuable as some expected — to make a clear upgrade.

The quarterback that helped Seattle decimate a depleted Denver team in Super Bowl XLVIII, Wilson grew into a top-flight passer in the years that followed. While the Seahawks transitioned from a team built around the Legion of Boom to a Wilson-centric operation, Pete Carroll insisted on keeping a run-oriented offense in place. The Seahawks also frequently skimped on offensive line investments. The Broncos do not boast a high-end O-line, either, but this could be the deepest collection of skill-position talent Wilson has enjoyed. Injuries and inconsistent QB play have limited Denver’s armada of highly drafted receivers (feat. steady ex-UDFA Tim Patrick) from making much of an impact. The Courtland SuttonJerry JeudyK.J. Hamler trio appears set for its most relevant NFL stretch.

Coming back after just three games from his right middle finger tendon rupture, Wilson did not look himself for much of the season’s second half. He finished with a career-low 54.7 QBR, but the ex-Seattle cornerstone represented the main reason the post-Super Bowl XLIX Seahawk editions remained contenders. Wilson put up his first two 4,000-yard seasons in 2019 and ’20 and eclipsed 30 touchdown passes from 2017-20, topping out with 40 in 2020. The Broncos have surpassed 20 TD passes as a team just once in the past seven seasons. They have not ranked in the top half of the league in scoring or total offense in that span. These stats may well come up during Wilson extension talks.

Set to tailor their offense to the relocated passer’s strengths, the Broncos will bet on Wilson bouncing back in a Nathaniel Hackett-led attack likely to feature more passing opportunities compared to the future Hall of Famer’s previous setup. From 2012-21, the Seahawks ranked 32nd in pass attempts — by a wide margin — with 30.4 per game. This season will double as a referendum on the Seahawks’ Wilson-era strategy, at least in the years since Marshawn Lynch‘s prime ended, and a chance for the 11th-year QB to show he is capable of thriving in a pass-first offense for an extended stretch.

Notable signings:

Last year’s Von Miller trade afforded the Broncos flexibility to reach deep into their draft assets to acquire Wilson, but it left the team with its most glaring edge need since Miller’s 2011 arrival. While rumors emerged about the Broncos pulling a Yankees-like Aroldis Chapman maneuver — trading a player at the deadline and then re-signing him the following offseason — they went with Gregory at a lower rate. Gregory reneged on a Cowboys contract at the 11th hour, spurning his seven-year (off-and-on) employer due to language that made it easier to void guarantees.

Signing the former suspension mainstay is a gamble for the Broncos; the 2015 second-rounder has been banned four times for substance-abuse policy violations. Between the 2016, ’17 and ’19 seasons, Gregory combined for two games. This could give him a “young 29”-type presence, due to limited wear and tear, but Gregory also missed time with a calf injury and has been limited this offseason due to shoulder surgery. Still, Gregory’s early-season surge in 2021 (five sacks, 11 QB hits and two forced fumbles in a four-game span), before his calf issue paused that stretch, created a live market. How Gregory lives up to his first notable NFL contract will determine the Broncos’ post-Miller pass-rushing outlook.

The Broncos now feature an interesting edge situation, one that houses former top-five pick Bradley Chubb, frequent fill-in starter Malik Reed and second-round pick Nik Bonitto. But if Gregory cannot recapture the near-All-Pro-caliber form he showed early last season, Denver’s plan could crumble. If Gregory can craft a post-Dallas prime arc, the Broncos having him tied to a $14MM-per-year pact — at a time when 21 edge rushers out-earn him — would present a roster-building advantage.

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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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