PFR Originals

Offseason In Review: Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens narrowly missed the playoffs last year, blowing a golden opportunity to put themselves in the driver’s seat for a divisional title in Week 16 before allowing the Steelers to drive the length of the field in the game’s waning moments. That was essentially the story of the season for Baltimore, as missed opportunities and fourth quarter collapses turned what might have been a successful campaign into a disappointment.

Depending on who you ask, the offseason has not been much better. The Ravens focused most of their attention, both in free agency and in the draft, on the defensive side of the ball when the offense sorely needed help. While Jeremy Maclin surprisingly falling into their laps late in the spring helped to mitigate that somewhat, the offensive line is still a major question mark. It’s also fair to wonder how wise it is for the team to depend so heavily on third-year wideout Breshad Perriman considering that he missed his entire rookie season with a knee injury, had an up-and-down 2016, and is currently being held out of training camp with hamstring soreness (thus halting the momentum he had built in spring and in the early stages of camp).

The Ravens have a fair amount of talent and could make some noise in the AFC North, though their recent spate of injuries is threatening to derail the season before it starts. One might also ask whether the conservative and predictable play-calling of offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and defensive coordinator Dean Pees will get the most out of their talent, and whether a mixed bag of an offseason will be enough to get Baltimore back to the postseason.

Notable signings:

The Ravens landed two key offensive pieces late in the offseason in Maclin and Austin Howard, but until that point, they had invested the vast majority of their assets into the defensive side of the ball. One of the most curious moves of the offseason was the massive payday Baltimore doled out to Brandon Williams. Williams is a terrific player to be sure, but he’s not a generational talent, and Baltimore has a quality defensive tackle in Michael Pierce that might have filled in capably for Williams at a fraction of the price. Plus, the Ravens have always been able to find quality defensive linemen. It has been more of a struggle to find quality offensive pieces, and the fact that Baltimore spent so lavishly on Williams and Tony Jefferson while letting right tackle Ricky Wagner walk in free agency and ignoring free agent wideouts like Alshon Jeffery and Terrelle Pryor — who both signed relatively inexpensive deals — certainly raised some eyebrows.

Luckily for the Ravens, it may have worked out anyway, though it’s hard to say it was by design. No one expected a receiver like Maclin to become available when he did, and while Howard could be a solid replacement for Wagner, he is coming off an injury-plagued season in which his performance took a noticeable dip. Danny Woodhead, who for a long time was Baltimore’s big offensive acquisition, offers a nice complement to the bruising running style of Terrance West, and if he can stay healthy — a big “if” for players wearing purple and black these days — he should be a big contributor as a receiver out of the backfield and will surely line up in the slot a fair amount.

Jefferson will join last year’s big free agent splurge, Eric Weddle, to form arguably the best safety tandem in the game, and the Ravens also signed Brandon Carr to bolster its cornerback corps, which has been thin in recent seasons and which has really suffered when No. 1 corner Jimmy Smith has been forced to sit out due to injury. Unfortunately for Baltimore, sophomore corner Tavon Young, who was excellent in his rookie season, tore his ACL and will miss all of 2017, which precipitated the Brandon Boykin signing. Maurice Canady, another sophomore corner who enjoyed a terrific spring and a strong start to training camp, was the favorite to replace Young, but he, too, went down with a potentially serious knee injury, so it looks as if Smith and Carr will man the perimeter while Boykin or stalwart Lardarius Webb will line up in the slot (though first-round draft choice Marlon Humphrey could replace Carr later in the season). That sounds like a decent enough group of CBs, but one more injury could lead to the same problems in coverage that the Ravens have experienced of late.

Nonetheless, the defense looks strong as a whole, and with the influx of young athleticism that the team added to that side of the ball in the draft, the only thing holding that unit back (outside of injury) is Pees. Wideouts Maclin, Mike Wallace, and Perriman offer considerable talent and complementary skill-sets on the offensive side of the ball, and if the Ravens can find some production from the tight end spot — see below — and if Joe Flacco can overcome his back injury, Baltimore should be in pretty good shape.

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Free Agent Stock Watch: Ryan Mathews

The Eagles finally ended the NFL’s longest charade today, releasing veteran running back Ryan Mathews months after it became clear they’d do so. Philadelphia had reason to wait, of course, as now that Mathews has received medical clearance, the club is off the hook for $1.15MM in injury protection.

Mathews, a first-round selection back in 2010, has mostly been defined by his lack of availability through seven NFL campaigns. He’s appeared in all 16 games just one time, and has missed roughly a quarter of the 112 total games in which he could’ve played. Additionally, Mathews is now on the wrong side of 30, and is hitting an age when some running backs break down.

Those negative attributes are obvious, but Mathews still has quite a bit to offer interested NFL clubs. In fact, he’s perhaps the perfect NFL backup running back. Here’s why:

Production

Given that Mathews has missed so much time during his career, it’s more informative to assess his production on a per-play basis rather than in the aggregate. Defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA) is a Football Outsiders metric that measures value on a rate basis, and can be applied to either team or individual performance. In seven NFL seasons, Mathews has ranked among the top-20 running backs in DVOA five times, including a No. 3 finish in 2015. So while Mathews’ counting statistics might not be all that impressive (he’s crossed the vaunted 1,000-yard threshold only twice), he’s been extremely valuable when he’s been on the field.Ryan Mathews (vertical)

Success rate is another Football Outsiders metric that’s often helpful when evaluating running backs, at it determines how well a back keeps an offense moving. In general, a run will deemed a success if a back gains 40% of the needed yards on first down, 60% of the needed yards on second down, and 100% of the needed yardage on third down.

Different situations can adjust those percentage tiers, but overall the formula is a good indicator of how well a back is keeping an offense “on schedule,” as Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com writes. Mathews grades incredibly well based on success rate: In his seven NFL campaigns, he’s finished as a top-25 back in success rate six times, and ranked among the top-10 twice (2013 and 2015).

While he’s not an above-average pass blocker, Mathews can be useful in the passing game. He’s averaged 26 receptions per season during his career, and even reached 50 catches in 2011. Since entering the league in 2010, Mathews ranks eighth among all running backs with a 79.3% catch rate on 226 targets, so he can be relied on as a passing game weapon. Fumbles have been an issue for Mathews, however, as he ranks first among NFL backs with 21 fumbles since 2010.

As a backup running back, Mathews would — by definition — see his touches reduced. Not only would that perhaps allow Mathews to stay healthy, but he can still remain productive when he is called upon. Not being asked to play starter’s snaps would help both Mathews and the team that signs him.

Scheme Fit

When the Eagles signed Mathews prior to the 2015 season, NFL Films producer Greg Cosell called him a “decisive downhill runner,” and Fran Duffy of PhiladelphiaEagles.com explained why those traits worked so well for what was — at the time — a zone-blocking-Eagles run game. But Mathews can conceivably fit in any number of offenses, as Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus explained to me.

“I think [Mathews] can be a useful member of a backfield,” said Monson. “I actually think he’s quite scheme diverse and pretty versatile as a back, so he should have options.”

Additionally, Mathews has played under a number of offensive minds who are still employed in various roles throughout the league. That list includes Mike McCoy (Broncos offensive coordinator), Rob Chudzinski (Colts OC), Pat Shurmur (Vikings OC), Hal Hunter (Browns offensive line coach), and Jason Michael (Titans quarterbacks coach), meaning there’s no shortage of offensive coaches who have firsthand experience with Mathews.

Cost

Coming off an injury-plagued season in 2014, Mathews landed a three-year deal worth $11MM ($5MM guaranteed) with the Eagles. As he hits free agency for the second time in his career, Mathews won’t come anywhere near that total: while he’s offered solid production on a rate basis over the past two seasons, he’s also two years older and just recovered from a serious neck injury.Ryan Mathews (Vertical)

It shouldn’t come as a surprise if Mathews can only score a minimum salary benefit deal in the coming weeks. Such a contract would allow a club to pay Mathews at the seven-year veteran rate of $900K while only using $615K in cap space. Mathews could also receive a signing bonus of up to $80K.

Recent contracts for veteran running backs include Jacquizz Rodgers (two years, $3.3MM), Robert Turbin (two years, $2.7MM), and Lance Dunbar (one year, $1.5MM). Dunbar is probably the best comparable given that he’s spent most of the past two seasons dealing with injuries and ineffectiveness, but he’s also three years younger than Mathews. Whichever team signs Mathews should plan on taking on an eminently affordable salary, and cap space won’t be a barrier.

Signing Mathews would also eliminate another potential opportunity cost — the draft pick capital it may require to trade for a running back. Earlier today, I examined several backs that could be dealt in the near future, including Carlos Hyde, Jeremy Hill, and T.J. Yeldon, all of whom are probably upgrades on Mathews, but all of whom will require the sacrifice of a draft pick. For clubs that aren’t inclined to trade away future value, signing Mathews would cost only money, not picks.

Market

Mathews became the best available free agent running back the second he was released by the Eagles. While other veteran options include Rashad Jennings, DeAngelo Williams, and James Starks, none offer the combination of talent and relative youth that does Mathews. Any team looking for running back help should instantly vault Mathews to their top of their free agent lists.

With that said, here’s a look at several clubs that could make sense as a landing spot for Mathews:

  • Baltimore Ravens: Kenneth Dixon was already going to miss the first four games of the season after being suspended, but now he’ll be sidelined for the entire 2017 campaign after undergoing knee surgery. Terrance West looks like Baltimore’s bell-cow, while Danny Woodhead will play on passing downs. Mathews could give the Ravens another viable option in the backfield, and Baltimore’s coaches “have a lot of respect for” Mathews, as Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun tweets.
  • Los Angeles Chargers: Back to where it all began? With new head coach Anthony Lynn in town, the Chargers figure to lean heavily on the run, meaning Melvin Gordon could need a breather every once in awhile. Los Angeles’ reserves behind Gordon — Kenneth Farrow, Branden Oliver, Kenjon Barner, Andre Williams — are nothing to write home about, so Mathews could help out, especially as a pass-catcher.
  • Miami Dolphins: Mathews makes sense for the Dolphins, opines Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald (Twitter link), especially given that Jay Ajayi is recovering from a concussion. Ajayi, who dealt with knee injuries in college, needs a solid backup behind him in case injury issues crop up again. Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake (also battling a concussion) are interesting players, but Mathews is a more known commodity.
  • New York Giants: Big Blue ranked 26th in rushing DVOA last season, and the only investment they’ve made at the running back position since has been fourth-round rookie Wayne Gallman. While the Giants have made noise about Paul Perkins serving as a three-down back, Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com reports Perkins “hasn’t blown anyone away” at camp, meaning the club could be searching for reinforcements.

Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Top 30 NFL Trade Candidates

While the NFL isn’t a trade-happy league like the NBA or MLB, deals are becoming more common as each season progresses. Draft pick swaps will always dominate any listing of NFL trades, deals involving veteran players aren’t as rare as they once were. Seven trades involving veteran players have occurred since the draft ended — at this time last year, only one such deal had gone down. As Jason Fitzgerald of Over the Cap noted in his excellent salary cap book, Crunching Numbers, trades are likely to become ordinary as front offices are taken over by younger, more out-of-the-box thinkers.

The players listed below as trade candidates aren’t ranked in any specific order — rather, we’ve attempted a league-wide look at players who could conceivably be on the move in the coming weeks or months. Contract status, overall ability, scheme fit, age, and coaching staff alterations all play a role in value, and each trait was factored into the likelihood of an individual player being dealt.

As always, you can find PFR’s complete list of 2017 NFL Trades right here.

Quarterback

Although the Bengals haven’t openly shopped A.J. McCarron, they haven’t completely sealed off the idea of dealing their backup quarterback. The asking price is extremely high, however, as Cincinnati reportedly wants a first-round draft choice for McCarron. An unidentified team offered a second-rounder for McCarron this offseason, and the Bengals declined, an indication of the value the club places on McCarron."<strong

Most likely, Cincinnati will need an injury to strike — and a club to get desperate — in order to meet its demands. In 2016, for example, the Vikings shipped a first-round pick to the Eagles in exchange for Sam Bradford after incumbent signal-caller Teddy Bridgewater went down. That situation presented the perfect opportunity for Philadelphia to reap compensation for Bradford, as Minnesota was a contending team with an immediate need under center. Bradford offered much more NFL experience than does McCarron, so a trade of the Bengals No. 2 quarterback remains unlikely.

Brock Osweiler, meanwhile, has a chance to act as the Browns’ Week 1 starter, but he’s not a long-term option for a club that used a second-round pick on DeShone Kizer. Cleveland has already rejected at least one trade offer for Osweiler this offseason, but it simply doesn’t make sense for the team to retain him on their roster. Having already acquired a second-round choice in exchange for taking on Osweiler’s contract, the Browns should convert most of his base salary guarantee into a signing bonus (thus reducing the cap hit for any interested parties) and send him to a quarterback-needy club.

Running back

New coaching staffs and pending free agency are key factors in labeling a player a trade candidate, and Carlos Hyde fits into both those buckets. Reports near the draft indicated the new 49ers regime wasn’t sold on Hyde, who has just one year left on his rookie contract, and the club has added several running backs this year, including free agent Tim Hightower and draft choice Joe Williams. Squarely in the midst of a rebuild, San Francisco has no reason to hold onto Hyde if it doesn’t plan to re-sign him, and early indications are Hyde hasn’t been offered an extension."<strong

Charles Sims could play a key role for the Buccaneers while Doug Martin is suspended for the first three games of the season, but his long-term role with Tampa Bay is unclear. General manager Jason Licht said earlier this year that Martin “looked as good as [he’s] ever seen him,” and I’d guess Martin will reclaim the Bucs’ starting job once he returns. Until that point, Tampa Bay could probably get by with a committee of Jacquizz Rodgers, Peyton Barber, and Jeremy McNichols if it decides it can get a draft pick for Sims, who is scheduled for free agency in 2018.

There are enough teams around the NFL looking for depth at running back that each of these backs should be able to create some sort of trade market. Speculative fits: Jeremy Hill, Giants; Hyde, Ravens; Matt Jones, Lions; Sims, Steelers; T.J. Yeldon, Chargers.

Wide receiver

Despite being selected 29th overall just two years ago, Phillip Dorsett appears to be in danger of not earning a Colts roster spot. He’s behind former undrafted free agent Chester Rogers and free agent signee Kamar Aiken on Indianapolis’ depth chart, and new general manager Chris Ballard doesn’t have any allegiance to the former Miami wideout. Eric Galko of the Sporting News (Twitter link) suggested the Jets — who recently lost Quincy Enunwa for the year — could be a fit for Dorsett, while the Bills, 49ers, Panthers, and Browns also make some deal of sense.

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Offseason In Review: Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons suffered the most heartbreaking loss in Super Bowl history earlier this year, blowing a 28-3 lead to the Patriots after storming through the NFC bracket. Clearly, that defeat will stick with Atlanta and its fans for some time, but that shouldn’t take away from the excellent 2016 season the club posted. With most of a high-scoring offense (except for offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan) and a young, exciting defense returning, the Falcons’ offseason figured to be relatively quiet.

Notable signings:

Boasting one of the more complete rosters in the NFL, the Falcons didn’t have many areas of weakness to be addressed during the free agent period. Ameliorating their run defense was one such focal point, however, as Atlanta ranked 28th in DVOA against the run. In a market where Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams received more than $20MM in full guarantees on multi-year contracts, the Falcons declined to overpay and landed Dontari Poe on a one-year, $8MM deal.Dontari Poe (Vertical)

Poe certainly has his positive attributes: he’s young (26), durable (just two career missed games), athletic despite his 6’3″, 250-pound stature, and can rush the passer from the interior. But it’s unclear just how helpful Poe will be at stopping the run. Among 115 qualified interior defenders, Poe graded 87th in run defense, according to Pro Football Focus. The Chiefs, Poe’s former employer, ranked 30th in total adjusted line yards last season and dead last in yards middle of their defensive line. That’s not to place all the blame at Poe’s feet, but he played the most snaps of any Kansas City defensive lineman in 2016.

While the Poe signing was certainly defensible, Atlanta’s addition of former Cowboys defensive end Jack Crawford made little sense, at least at the required price. While he did an admirable job guiding Clarice Starling in her encounters with Hannibal Lecter, Crawford doesn’t provide much that the Falcons defensive line didn’t already have. He’s a remarkably similar player to incumbent options Adrian Clayborn and Courtney Upshaw, the latter of whom also re-signed with Atlanta this offseason. Crawford isn’t as talented as either of those players, however, and at a cost of $3.3MM annually, he’s earning a similar salary to that of Erik Walden, Connor Barwin, and Julius Peppers, all of whom I’d take over Crawford.

The Falcons didn’t need to add much to an offense that ranked first in DVOA last year, but they did bring back two key insurance pieces: quarterback Matt Schaub and tight end Levine Toilolo. Now in his second stint as a backup in Atlanta, Schaub attempted only three passes in relief of Matt Ryan. While he’s a capable reserve, there’s little question the Falcons’ season would go down in flames if Schaub is forced to step in for Ryan for any serious length of time. Toilolo, meanwhile, is the perfect No. 2 tight end, as he’s a willing blocker who also plays on special teams. In 2016, Toilolo played 55% of Atlanta’s offensive snaps while rookie Austin Hooper saw roughly 40% playtime. Expect those percentages to flip next season.

The only external additions made by the Falcons — wide receiver Andre Roberts and fullback Derrick Coleman — should slot in as replacements for two departed Atlanta free agents, Eric Weems and Patrick DiMarco. Roberts will likely become the primary return man for the Falcons in 2017, although his roster spot isn’t a given just yet, per Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com. Entering his eighth NFL campaign, Roberts handled 33 kickoffs and 20 punt returns for Detroit last season. Coleman, 26, was out of of the NFL in 2016 following an alleged hit-and-run, but he should see ample playing time next season, as DiMarco played the second-most offensive snaps of any fullback in the league a season ago.

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PFR Originals: 8/6/17 – 8/13/17

The original content and analysis produced by the PFR staff during the past week:

Let’s Figure Out Who Offered A Second-Rounder For A.J. McCarron

An unidentified team reportedly offered the Bengals a second-round pick for backup quarterback A.J. McCarron this offseason, as Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com reported earlier this week. Cincinnati rejected the offer, as it apparently wants a first-rounder for McCarron, who will once again act as a reserve behind starter Andy Dalton in 2017.A.J. McCarron (Vertical)

McCarron, 26, doesn’t have much NFL experience, as he’s only made four total starts (all following a 2015 Dalton injury) during his three-year career. Although he posted a decent showing in those appearances, tossing seven touchdowns against two interceptions, the former fifth-round pick’s track record is admittedly limited. McCarron’s contract situation is also up in the air: while the Bengals reportedly believe he’ll be a restricted free agent in 2018 because he spent his rookie season on the non-football injury list, McCarron and his agent may have a different take. An arbitrator hearing and resolution likely won’t come until next season.

With those caveats in mind, let’s look at the possible candidates for who offered a second-round pick for McCarron:

Arizona Cardinals

Let’s start off this exercise with the one true wild card on this list, as the Cardinals already have their starting quarterback in another former Bengal, 37-year-old Carson Palmer. Given that Palmer hinted at retirement all offseason, it’s entirely feasible 2017 will be his final NFL season, and Arizona hasn’t established a plan for the future. Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert aren’t realistic options to take over under center if Palmer does hang up his cleats after the upcoming campaign, so it’s possible the Cardinals would have floated a Day 2 selection in order to land a long-term successor like McCarron. General manager Steve Keim hasn’t been afraid to trade draft picks in the past, although his other significant deal — sending a second-rounder to the Patriots for edge rusher Chandler Jones — was a win-now move. McCarron’s 2014 NFL.com draft profile noted his lack of a “big-time, vertical arm,” which would theoretically present a problem in a Bruce Arians offense.

Buffalo Bills

The Bills hemmed and hawed on whether to retain incumbent signal-caller Tyrod Taylor, and though it appeared as though he’d hit free agency, Taylor ultimately agreed to a short-term pact that will keep him Buffalo through the 2018 season. While McCarron would seemingly fit in new play-caller Rick Dennison‘s offense, the timeline of the Bills’ front office turnover makes it unlikely they were involved in McCarron trade discussions. Buffalo reached a new deal with Taylor just prior to the start of the 2017 league year in early March, and former general manager Doug Whaley was fired two months later. Targeting another quarterback just after working out a fresh pact with Taylor seems improbable, and Buffalo’s ownership wouldn’t have let a lame duck like Whaley make such a franchise-altering decision.

Chicago Bears

While the Bears were never linked to McCarron, they were interested in trading for another high-profile backup quarterback — the Patriots’ Jimmy Garoppolo. Rival clubs didn’t believe Chicago would be forced to part with its No. 3 overall pick in order to land Garoppolo, as a package of multiple second-round selections was thought to be enough to get a deal done. Clearly, that view was misguided in regards to Garoppolo’s availability, but the Bears were obviously willing to ship away draft choices in order to bring in a passer. Ultimately, Chicago not only signed free agent Mike Glennon, but sent a bevy of picks to the 49ers in order to move up one spot in the first round for UNC’s Mitch Trubisky. Sending a second-rounder to Cincinnati for McCarron, then, wouldn’t have been out of the question.

Cleveland Browns

The one club known to have held McCarron trade talks with the Bengals is the Browns, who were reportedly discussing McCarron as late as the first day of the draft in April. However, negotiations between Cincinnati and Cleveland apparently didn’t get very far, as the Bengals were had assigned a high price tag to its backup quarterback. Based on familiarity alone, the Browns were an excellent fit for McCarron, as Cleveland head coach Hue Jackson was the Bengals’ offensive coordinator when McCarron entered the league in 2014. The Bengals didn’t seem to have any qualms about dealing McCarron to a division rival, and Cleveland seems like an obvious contender for the mystery team that offered Cincinnati a second-round pick, especially given that it owned two of them heading into the draft.

Denver Broncos

An armchair psychologist might say general manager John Elway‘s insistence that the Broncos are not currently trying to trade for McCarron (“150% false) is a bit on the defensive side, but even if Denver isn’t looking into McCarron at the moment, that doesn’t mean the club wasn’t interested in him earlier this year. Yes, the Broncos used a first-round pick on Paxton Lynch just a year ago, but reports on him and fellow quarterback Trevor Siemian haven’t been positive. Plus, Denver was linked to at least one signal-caller upgrade — veteran Tony Romo — this offseason, meaning the Broncos were willing to put Lynch and Siemian on the bench if a better option was discovered.

Houston Texans

One of the three clubs on this list that ultimately traded up to select a quarterback in the first round of the draft, the Texans are now set for the future with Clemson’s Deshaun Watson under center. But would they have been willing to ship a relatively early pick to the Bengals for McCarron before acquiring Watson? Possibly, although the fact that McCarron would likely need to be extended relatively quickly may have presented a problem. The Texans are staring at long-term deals for wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, so cap space could quickly get tight. And after general manager Rick Smith whiffed on Brock Osweiler in 2016, Texans ownership may not have given approval for the front office to spend both draft pick capital and more cash on another unproven quarterback.

Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs actually selected another quarterback — Georgia’s Aaron Murray — one pick before McCarron came off the board to Cincinnati in the fifth round of the 2014 draft. But McCarron doesn’t look like a perfect fit for Kansas City, and like Houston, cap space problems would have likely come into play. The Chiefs are currently projected to be nearly $5MM over the cap in 2018, so extending or franchising McCarron would have possibly been untenable. As such, Kansas City needed the benefits of a rookie quarterback contract, and instead opted to trade up to acquire Patrick Mahomes out of Texas Tech.

New York Jets

Writing in early March, Rich Cimini of ESPN.com suggested the Jets may have looked into a possible Sheldon Richardson-for-McCarron trade, noting his belief that Cincinnati would have had to insert a draft pick to get a deal done. I completely disagree on that last point, as a quarterback — even a reserve — has more value than a unproductive edge rusher/defensive tackle (plus, Richardson is scheduled to earn nearly $8MM more than McCarron in 2017), the idea of Gang Green trading for McCarron wasn’t completely out of the question. New York isn’t trying to win during the upcoming season, however, and will limp through the campaign with Josh McCown, Bryce Petty, and Christian Hackenberg before presumably finding a quarterback in next year’s draft.

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers are one of the more interesting clubs on this list, as new head coach Kyle Shanahan should be allowed to essentially handpick his quarterback of the future at this point. San Francisco signed free agents Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley, and drafted Iowa’s C.J. Beathard in the third round, but any talks regarding McCarron likely would have occurred before the 49ers made those moves. Still, the idea that San Francisco would have offered a second-round pick for McCarron seems unlikely for a few reasons. First, the Niners’ second-rounder was No. 34 overall, an extremely valuable draft choice, and second, San Francisco is probably holding off on adding a long-term quarterback until the 2018 free agent status of Kirk Cousins — Shanahan’s former pupil — is resolved.

What do you think? Did one of these clubs offer a second-round pick for McCarron? Or was it another unidentified team? Weigh in here:

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Offseason In Review: Green Bay Packers

The Packers have earned postseason berths in eight consecutive seasons, but they haven’t made a Super Bowl appearance since the 2010 campaign. While most NFL clubs would be satisfied with that record of sustained success, anything less than a championship is a disappointment for a team that boasts one of the league’s two best quarterbacks. Green Bay is hardly ever active during the free agent period, but the club’s front office had work to do — especially on the defensive side of the ball — this offseason.

Notable signings:

The Packers made Nick Perry the 28th overall selection in the 2012 draft, but after he started only 16 total games through his first four seasons in Green Bay, it was fair to label the USC Trojan a bust. He hit the open market in 2016 at the age of 25 after the Packers declined his fifth-year option, but after generating little interest as a free agent, Perry re-signed with Green Bay for just $5MM on a one-year contract.Nick Perry

Things changed in 2016: as Perry explained to Robert Mays of the Ringer, he began “expanding his vision” and acting “more aggressive in his initial movements,” and the results were almost immediate. Perry reached a career-high with 14 starts and played on nearly 60% of the Packers’ defensive snaps. In that time, he registered 11 sacks, 47 quarterback pressures, and 37 defensive stops, with that final total being good for ninth among edge defenders, per Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus. For his efforts, Perry was rewarded with a pact which ranks 10th among pass rushers in annual value and 15th in full guarantees.

While Perry’s return should help the Packers maintain a pass rush that ranked eighth in adjusted sack rate last season, new addition Ricky Jean-Francois will assist in the run game, where Green Bay finished 14th in DVOA. Jean-Francois, 30, is a classic Packers signing: he’s a not-too-flashy veteran who’d been cut by his previous team (the Redskins), meaning his signing won’t affect the 2018 compensatory formula. With Letroy Guion now off the roster, and rookie defensive lineman Montravius Adams expected to miss time, Jean-Francois — whom Green Bay had reportedly been interested in for years — should see ample playing time.

Fixing the front seven wasn’t the main concern for the Packers this offseason, however, as the team’s secondary was its primary area of weakness in 2016. Green Bay ranked 23rd in pass defense DVOA, per Football Outsiders, and finished 26th, 26th, and 28th, against opposing No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3 wide receivers. To address their defensive backfield, the Packers brought back a familiar face, signing Davon House — who spent 2011-14 in Green Bay — to a one-year deal. House lost his starting role with the Jaguars a season ago, but he’s now back with defensive coordinator Dom Capers, under whom House played well during his prior Packers stint. The early reviews on the 28-year-old have been positive, and it won’t be surprising if he’s a starting corner in Week 1.

On offense, Green Bay signed veteran right guard Jahri Evans, who will be entering his 12th NFL season. Now 33 years old, Evans has been extremely durable throughout his career, as he’s missed only seven total games. 2016 will mark his first campaign as a non-Saint, but Evans should immediately slide into the right guard vacancy created by T.J. Lang‘s free agent defection. While Evans isn’t the All Pro lineman he was in the latter portion of the 2000s, he’s still an above-average guard: last year, Evans graded as the league’s No. 33 guard among 75 qualifiers, according to Pro Football Focus.Martellus Bennett

The Packers double-dipped at tight end, agreeing to multi-year contracts with both Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks. While both are assured of roster spots, Bennett will undoubtedly play more snaps, as he’s arguably the best tight end Aaron Rodgers have ever played with. Catching passes from Tom Brady in 2016, Bennett managed 73 receptions for 701 yards and seven touchdowns while finishing fifth among NFL tight ends in yards per target. Bennett posted those totals while dealing a myriad of injuries, so if he’s able to stay healthy during the upcoming season, he could reach or surpass career-highs in several statistical categories.

Kendricks, meanwhile, will allow the Packers to run two-tight end sets, something they did on only 9% of plays a season ago, per the Football Outsiders Almanac. The 29-year-old Kendricks has reportedly ingratiated himself in Green Bay, as he’s already running ahead of fellow tight end Richard Rodgers in some offensive packages, as Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com writes. Despite playing on one of the league’s worst offense last season, Kendricks posted a career-high 50 receptions, but still earned atrocious blocking grades from PFF.

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Offseason In Review: Oakland Raiders

After more than a decade as a bottom-tier franchise, the Raiders broke out last season and are suddenly the favorites to win their first AFC West title in 15 years. The team added a few veterans that figure to help an already potent offense and, understandably, devoted its draft to defense.

The Raiders also took care of cornerstones from the much-praised 2014 draft via extensions. However, all of this optimism comes against what could be a strange backdrop — especially for a Super Bowl contender. The Raiders’ decision to move to Las Vegas, eventually, will make Oakland Coliseum games interesting this season.

While the Raiders have yet to prove they can win the big games necessary to contend with the Patriots, they may have as good of a chance as anyone to topple the defending champions based on their roster construction. And they should be poised to be a top-tier AFC contender for the foreseeable future.

Notable signings:

Somewhat interestingly, Oakland chose to address its stronger unit in free agency while leaving its defense largely unchanged until the draft. Cook and Patterson could bring explosiveness the Raiders have not enjoyed at these positions in many years. While neither is a surefire bet for consistency, both figure to enhance the Raiders’ offensive capabilities.

The Raiders haven’t presented many imposing matchups from the tight end position in the modern era. Cook lost time to injury in 2016, but his late-season re-emergence coincided with some of the best play of Aaron Rodgers‘ career. Oakland acquiring Cook on a $5.3MM-per-year accord looks like a team-friendly deal.

The athletic tight end surpassed 600 yards in three seasons despite having suboptimal quarterbacks throwing to him. As the No. 3 option behind Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, the 30-year-old Cook will be in position to threaten defenses in a way Derek Carr‘s previous tight ends couldn’t. This acquisition will help compensate for the Raiders’ lack of a steady No. 3 wideout.

Oakland’s Patterson signing stands to benefit the offense more so from a field-position standpoint. A two-time All-Pro kick returner with the Vikings, Patterson did not become what Minnesota’s brass envisioned as a receiver. While a potentially dangerous gadget player — especially on an offense possessing the kind of weaponry Oakland’s does — Patterson is no lock to beat out incumbent Seth Roberts for the Raiders’ top slot job. Patterson’s prodigious return acumen will put the Raiders in better position to score, and like Cook, his skill set is one the team hasn’t enjoyed much lately.

Newhouse resides in a strong position to start. A Packers draft choice during Reggie McKenzie‘s Green Bay years, Newhouse has been given plenty of first-string chances — including 20 first-unit games with the Giants from 2015-16 — but has not distinguished himself much and figures to be the clear weak link on the Raiders’ starting line.

The Raiders did not attempt to upgrade much at backup quarterback, with Manuel having been one of the more disappointing first-round passers in years. Carr coming off a broken leg that torpedoed the Silver and Black’s season, the Raiders passing on more proven backups like Chase Daniel, Nick Foles or Ryan Fitzpatrick to sign Manuel for the league minimum is curious. Connor Cook continues to develop but wouldn’t be viewed as an above-average backup if he were to win the job, at least based on his emergency-circumstance work sample last season.

Jenkins would seemingly have the inside track to replace Malcolm Smith on the outside. He signed on a prove-it deal and given the Raiders’ lack of options opposite Bruce Irvin in their base sets, the former Dolphins starter should have a chance to showcase his abilities this season. But Jenkins has trended in the wrong direction since posting a 110-tackle 2014. Pro Football Focus tabbed him as one of the league’s worst linebackers last season. Also considering the Raiders’ gamble on unproven players in the middle, off-ball linebacker profiles as a risk since the team is without both of its nickel-package ‘backers from 2016.

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PFR Originals: 7/30/17 – 8/6/17

The original content and analysis produced by the PFR staff during the past week:

  • The 2017 regular season is less than two months away. PFR has begun its annual Offseason In Review series, assessing the major signings, departures, trades, and other notable events for each of the 32 NFL clubs. We covered the Washington Redskins this week.
  • There have been some high-profile young quarterbacks on the UFA market for some time now, and PFR’s Zach Links asked readers which was going to sign first. Colin Kaepernick won a competitive race. However, Ryan Tannehill‘s sudden injury prompted the Dolphins to go with a wild-card entrant. Adam Gase lured Jay Cutler out of retirement.

Offseason In Review: Washington Redskins

The Redskins narrowly missed earning a second consecutive postseason appearance in 2017, as a tie with the Bengals in London ended up costing Washington another playoff berth. That frustration seemed minor compared to the upheaval that began on the first day of free agency, when the Redskins fired general manager Scot McCloughan and began a summer-long saga of unfruitful negotiations with quarterback Kirk Cousins.

Notable signings:

Kirk Cousins has played the free agent game perfectly: assigned the franchise tag for two consecutive seasons, Cousins has now raked in nearly $44MM from 2016-17, and will earn another ~$34.48MM if the Redskins use the franchise tender again in 2018. Exerting all his leverage, Cousins rejected an offer from Washington that the team claims included $53MM in full guarantees, noting that he wanted more time to evaluate an organization that has seen considerable turnover both on the field and in the front office.Kirk Cousins (Vertical)

While Cousins clearly isn’t the league’s best quarterback, he’s going to be paid like it next season, either through another franchise tag, an extension with the Redskins, or a free agent deal with another club. Over the past two seasons, Cousins has completed 68.3% of his passes while averaging more than 4,500 yards, 27 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. That level of production will earn a quarterback a massive contract on the open market — especially given that Cousins’ former offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, is now the head coach of a quarterback-needy 49ers club — and Cousins will easily clear the $27MM per year mark if he reaches unfettered free agency.

Cousins will be throwing to a new group of wideouts that includes former Brown Terrelle Pryor, whom the Redskins landed on one of the best value free agent signings of 2017. Pryor is only 28 years old, and posted 77 receptions, 1,007 yards and four touchdowns in his first season as a wide receiver. Given that he was a quarterback until 2016, many clubs seemed reticent to invest in Pryor despite his excellent statistics, but Washington took the plunge. It’s a worthwhile risk, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Redskins attempt to extend Pryor in-season if he continues his run of receiving success.

While receiver Brian Quick may not even make Washington’s final roster, veteran tight end Vernon Davis could play a key role for the club after re-signing on a three-year pact. Starting tight end Jordan Reed has had difficulty staying healthy during his four-year career (four missed games last season), and has already been placed on active/PUP with a toe issue. Davis, who looked finished in Denver two years ago, put up 44 receptions for more than 500 yards in his first season as a Redskin. While he still can’t block (bottom-10 among tight ends in the run game, per Pro Football Focus), Davis is a serviceable starter if Reed is sidelined again.

On defense, the Redskins sought to beef up a defensive line that ranked just 27th against the run, according to Football Outsiders‘ adjusted line yards metric. While Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain should do just that along Washington’s front, both signed contracts that can be escaped relatively easily. McClain, notably, is two years older than McGee, but received a larger guarantee, a larger signing bonus, and a longer contract than the former Raider. While both interior defenders will see time up front on a rotational basis, both players could see their deals effectively turn into effective one-year pacts.Zach Brown (vertical)

At the second level, Washington made an addition that rivals its signing of Pryor in terms of value, inking linebacker Zach Brown to a one-year deal. Finally utilizing the speed and athleticism that made him a second-round pick in 2012, Brown played 91.2% of Buffalo’s defensive snaps a year ago while posting 149 tackles, four sacks, and one interception. That performance earned Brown second-team All Pro honors, but his market never developed, as interest from the Raiders, Dolphins, Colts, and incumbent Bills never materialized into a deal. Landing a linebacker of Brown’s caliber for just $2.3MM is an absolute steal.

Like Brown, safety D.J. Swearinger is a former second-round draft choice who never put it all together until 2016, when he started 12 games for Arizona and graded as the NFL’s No. 9 safety, per PFF. Swearinger, who is already drawing praise for his work in Washington, is expected to line up next to Su’a Cravens (yet another ex-second-rounder) in the Redskins’ secondary. The Redskins ranked 25th in DVOA against tight ends last season, so the club is hoping Swearinger can help cover the middle of the field.

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