PFR Originals

2022 NFL Cap Space, By Team

As we exit September, trade rumors will become a steady NFL topic. This year’s deadline falls on Nov. 1. That will return cap-space discussions to the forefront. Here is how every team stacks up financially going into October, via Over The Cap.

  1. Cleveland Browns: $35.94MM
  2. Philadelphia Eagles: $10.89MM
  3. Denver Broncos: $10.67MM
  4. Carolina Panthers: $10.47MM
  5. Las Vegas Raiders: $10.35MM
  6. Dallas Cowboys: $9.25MM
  7. Pittsburgh Steelers: $8.64MM
  8. Green Bay Packers: $8.57MM
  9. Indianapolis Colts: $7.97MM
  10. Atlanta Falcons: $7.92MM
  11. New York Jets: $6.97MM
  12. Chicago Bears: $6.84MM
  13. San Francisco 49ers: $6.75MM
  14. Miami Dolphins: $6.51MM
  15. Arizona Cardinals: $6.25MM
  16. Los Angeles Chargers: $5.83MM
  17. New York Giants: $5.49MM
  18. Jacksonville Jaguars: $5.41MM
  19. Los Angeles Rams: $5.38MM
  20. Baltimore Ravens: $4.51MM
  21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: $3.87MM
  22. New England Patriots: $3.5MM
  23. Cincinnati Bengals: $3.16MM
  24. New Orleans Saints: $2.86MM
  25. Detroit Lions: $2.64MM
  26. Washington Commanders: $2.58MM
  27. Buffalo Bills: $2.44MM
  28. Tennessee Titans: $2.41MM
  29. Seattle Seahawks: $2.28MM
  30. Kansas City Chiefs: $2.12MM
  31. Houston Texans: $1.64MM
  32. Minnesota Vikings: $1.47MM

The Eagles’ number is certainly far closer to the Vikings’ last-place figure than what the Browns have stockpiled. Cleveland would stand to have room to augment its 2022 roster, via a patient free agent or a trade. That could depend on where Jacoby Brissett has the team stationed going into the Nov. 1 deadline. But the Browns also appear to be preparing for their Deshaun Watson future. Watson’s unprecedented contract spikes from a $9.4MM cap number (2022) to a record-shattering $54.99MM numbers from 2023-26. As that reality awaits, the Browns rolling over cap space to 2023 would be prudent.

With Sterling Shepard‘s ACL tear moving the veteran wide receiver to IR, the Giants will need to both cover that cost ($6.3MM) and add a contract to fill the roster spot. Every team will go through versions of that issue this season, as injuries pile up. The Giants are prepared to eat a significant chunk of Kenny Golladay‘s 2022 base salary ($13MM) to move him, eyeing an escape from his $4.5MM 2023 guarantee. No takers have emerged, though it will be interesting to see if a market for the former Pro Bowler forms once injuries affect more teams’ receiver situations.

Since their Jimmy Garoppolo restructure, the 49ers agreed to a two-year extension with Dre Greenlaw. The team is not expected to extend Nick Bosa until 2023, however. The Texans, Falcons, Bears and Eagles all sit north of $60MM in dead money, meaning more than a quarter of their respective cap space is tied to players no longer on the roster. Watson, Matt Ryan and Khalil Mack are responsible for massive dead-money hits on the Houston, Atlanta and Chicago payrolls. Philadelphia still has Alshon Jeffery, Malik Jackson and Brandon Brooks dead money on its cap sheet.

The Changing 49ers QB Outlook

The Kyle ShanahanJohn Lynch regime has seen some twists and turns alter its quarterback plans. Although quarterback consistency has eluded this duo for much of its six-season run in San Francisco, the plan to circle back to Jimmy Garoppolo will keep the 49ers in place as an NFC contender.

QB doors not opened hover over this 49ers era. Whereas Garoppolo has dealt with numerous injuries during his San Francisco stay, Shanahan’s initial plan — a 2018 Kirk Cousins free agency addition — probably would have allowed the team better fortune on the health front. The team was also connected to Tom Brady in multiple offseasons, with Lynch shooting his trade-inquiry shot back in 2017 and the Bay Area native being interested in signing with the then-reigning NFC champions in 2020. 49ers ties emerged even during Brady’s brief retirement window.

Shanahan and Lynch went from passing on QB answer in their first draft — one that saw the 49ers trade down from No. 2 to No. 3 and pass on Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson (and Mitch Trubisky, who went second overall) for since-departed defensive lineman Solomon Thomas — before seeing a long-term starter fall into their laps at that year’s trade deadline. That October 2017 trade, which cost the 49ers a second-round pick (No. 43 overall), is still paying dividends five years later.

The Garoppolo era appears near an end, but the 49ers are suddenly all-in again on a player who spent the offseason, training camp and preseason away from the team. Trey Lance‘s season-ending ankle injury dealt an inexperienced prospect a tough blow, but the Week 2 setback — albeit awkwardly — may have bolstered one of the NFL’s top rosters. Garoppolo’s re-emergence figures to stabilize the 49ers, providing them perhaps a considerably elevated floor. (An early-season Lance benching was already being rumored.) Instances in which a contending team loses a QB1 and is viewed as better for it are not exactly common throughout NFL history; this could be one of the few.

This reality nearly fell apart months ago, as the 49ers came close to trading Garoppolo before his value-hijacking March shoulder surgery. The Browns, Rams and Seahawks later loomed as a destinations in the event the 49ers cut him — this saga’s expected endgame in its final weeks. Although the 49ers have said the plan all along was to trade their four-plus-year starter, he always loomed as unusual Lance insurance. The 49ers drafted one of the most atypical quarterback prospects in league history last year, and the Division I-FCS product’s inexperience made going into the season without Garoppolo a tremendous risk. Yet, that appeared the plan. Lynch’s suggestion to approach Garoppolo with a pay-cut proposal ended up preventing one of the NFC favorites from seeing Lance’s injury leave them with an untenable in-house starter option.

While Garoppolo gives Shanahan a safer option to lead a three-All-Pro offense, the 49ers are in one of the weirder places at quarterback in recent memory. Their No. 3 overall pick will have finished his first two seasons with four starts and 102 pass attempts. Those numbers are not unprecedented by any means, but this is obviously a different situation compared to the likes of Jordan Love or busts Johnny Manziel (eight starts through two seasons) and Paxton Lynch (four). Lance, who could be kept through 2025 via the fifth-year option, remains firmly in San Francisco’s plans (indeed, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets that the Niners remain fully committed to Lance, who has a four- to six-month recovery timeline). But this rehab year will nix another shot at in-game development. These chances have continually been taken away from the North Dakota State alum.

Entering 2023, Lance will have just season of regular starter work on his post-high school resume. After redshirting in 2018, Lance tore up the FCS level (albeit with that tier’s best program) with 28 touchdown passes and no interceptions and led the Bison to another national championship. The COVID-19 pandemic led most of college football, save for Division I-FBS, to cancel its 2020 seasons (for the fall, at least). After a one-game 2020, Lance declared for the draft. Despite a highlight reel consisting entirely of redshirt-freshman plays, the dual-threat talent managed to follow fellow Bison standout Carson Wentz by becoming a top-three draftee. But Lance suffered a finger injury in 2021, limiting him during a season in which he was not viewed as a Garoppolo threat.

A sought-after QB prospect having thrown 420 passes in five seasons since high school is historically unusual territory for a player still expected to be a long-term NFL starter. Lance’s misfortune comes after an inconsistent preseason, one that helped push the 49ers to solidify a Garoppolo recommitment. A rocky Week 1 start on a waterlogged Soldier Field enhanced the mystery surrounding Lance’s status. A high ceiling may remain, but after four years away from full-time duty, can the 49ers be sure? San Francisco is also now veering toward Green Bay-Love territory; the 49ers will have gotten next to nothing from a first-round QB contract through two years. Though, Garoppolo’s restructure gives the team some flexibility the Packers lack thanks to Aaron Rodgers‘ record-setting $50.3MM-per-year extension.

Fielding an NFC championship-qualifying team with scant contributions from a No. 3 overall pick highlights the 49ers’ roster strength. Last year’s success and this year’s largely Lance-less operation also magnify the franchise’s decision to trade two future first-round picks to move up nine spots for such an unproven commodity. The 49ers have won in spite of their 2021 Lance- (or Mac Jones?)-motivated decision. It is understandable the 49ers dealt into future draft arsenals to land a quarterback upgrade, as Garoppolo (12th- and 13th-place QBR figures in 2019 and ’21, respectively) maxes out as an above-average option. But the team made a luxury pick with a Super Bowl-caliber roster in place.

The Shanahan-Jones connection likely will not fade anytime soon. Although Jones was not viewed on Lance’s level as a prospect last year, the 49ers’ April trade was initially believed to be for the Alabama QB. The 49ers went through an extensive investigation into Jones, the eventual Patriots pick at 15, before deciding on Lance. A report indicating the 49ers, who had held 2021’s No. 12 overall selection, being worried about the Patriots leapfrogging them for Jones does point to the less mobile passer being their initial preference. While Shanahan said both Lance and Jones would have been good options, the Jones what-if could linger.

Lance’s injury also thrusts Garoppolo’s health history back to the forefront. In addition to the shoulder malady sidetracked his trade market, the ninth-year vet played through calf and thumb issues in 2021, went down with a season-ending ankle problem in 2020 and missed most of the ’18 season due to an ACL tear. The 49ers having 2022 Mr. Irrelevant Brock Purdy and practice squad journeyman Kurt Benkert as Garoppolo’s only backups suddenly becomes a concern. Shanahan’s intermittent success with a rookie UDFA (Nick Mullens) notwithstanding, the team turning back to the trade market — this time to supplement Garoppolo — would make sense.

A backup with multiple years of control could be a priority as well. Garoppolo’s 2018 extension expires in March. The 49ers venturing to two NFC title games in three seasons without a high-end quarterback represents an achievement when considering the position’s rise in stature as rule changes have pushed most teams to build around the passing game. The quarterback that drew scrutiny for holding his team back being viewed as a rejuvenation tool is ironic, but the 49ers did well to forge this compromise. It could go down as a seminal compromise.

But little is settled for the team beyond 2022. After Garoppolo makes another push at a Super Bowl championship, his restructure’s no-franchise tag clause would stand to lead him to free agent market unlikely to include many attractive options (Lamar Jackson is not hitting the market, and Year 23 might actually be it for Brady). At that point, the paused Lance era will return to the 49ers’ front burner. Lance’s uncertain trajectory will be appropriate for a team that has seen its QB situation produce a highly unpredictable contender during the Shanahan-Lynch period.

Extension Candidate: Saquon Barkley

Through two games, Saquon Barkley is the NFL’s rushing leader. Barkley’s 236 yards are obviously a big reason why the Giants have jumped out to a 2-0 start. This marks a positive development for Barkley, who lingered as a low-key trade candidate this offseason.

The Joe SchoenBrian Daboll regime inherited Barkley, who had slid from one of the best running back prospects in modern NFL history to a player whose Giants future was in doubt because of injury trouble. Barkley’s resurgence may need to continue for a bit before the new Giants front office considers extension talks, but on a team that has seen a strange receiver situation cloud its long-term outlook at that position, Barkley could fit as a second-contract piece.

It sounds like the former No. 2 overall pick will be willing to negotiate in-season with the Giants. That was his stance last year, though the early-season ankle sprain he suffered made it three straight years of injury trouble and moved a possible extension well off the radar. Barkley, 25, is now playing on a $7.22MM fifth-year option. Despite Barkley’s injury history, he dropped an early indication he would be willing to play out that option year.

Any time an athlete bets on himself and goes out there and performs at a high level, you love to see that,” Barkley said, via Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post. “Whether it’s football, whether it’s baseball, whether it’s basketball, I want all athletes to get what they deserve.”

Since the 2011 CBA introduced the fifth-year option, Barkley is just the second running back to play on it. Melvin Gordon played on the option in 2019, doing so after holding out to start that season. He left Los Angeles in free agency in 2020. With Barkley having shown a higher NFL ceiling — one sidetracked by injuries — this situation brings a bit more intrigue. The Giants have not seen one of their first-round picks play beyond five seasons with the team since 2010 first-rounder Jason Pierre-Paul.

Thanks largely to the 2017 draft class, first and second tiers have formed in the running back market. Christian McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliott and Alvin Kamara secured deals at or north of $15MM per year. McCaffrey’s $16MM-AAV Panthers pact — agreed to in March 2020 — still leads the way. From July 2020 to March 2021, the second tier emerged. Derrick Henry, Joe Mixon, Dalvin Cook and Aaron Jones signed deals worth between $12MM and $12.5MM per year. Nick Chubb, part of Barkley’s 2018 draft class, fell in line by signing a $12.2MM-per-year Browns extension in July 2021.

Seven members of the 2017 class, which also includes former UDFA Austin Ekeler, signed upper-echelon or midlevel second contracts with their respective teams. Chris Carson was the only one to do so after reaching free agency. Not all of these contracts have worked out. McCaffrey has battled injuries, and Carson suffered a career-ending neck injury. But most of the recent extension recipients remain on steady trajectories after being paid. This wave of payments cresting after the likes of Le’Veon Bell, Todd Gurley and David Johnson did not justify their contracts has made for an interesting stretch.

These $12MM-$16MM-per-year deals have created a roadmap for a Barkley re-up, though it remains to be seen if the Schoen-Daboll operation views him in that way or will be one to extend a running back. The Giants are not believed to have shopped Barkley, they took trade calls on him before the draft. Barkley’s skillset would make him a candidate for a McCaffrey- or Kamara-type contract. His injury history, and perhaps McCaffrey’s post-extension health issues, could nix that reality. The talented Giants back continuing this early pace and showing the kind of form he did as a rookie (NFL-high 2,028 scrimmage yards) and when healthy in 2019 — behind shaky offensive lines in each season — could change the equation.

The Giants entering discussions with Barkley this season could allow them to lock down their top playmaker and give the injury-prone back some security. Barkley’s 2019 high ankle sprain, 2020 ACL and MCL tears and his 2021 ankle issue threw his career off course, but the team is unlikely to have a big-ticket receiver contract or a franchise-quarterback deal on its 2023 books. Kenny Golladay, Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard and perhaps Kadarius Toney, the way that partnership is going, have uncertain post-2022 futures in New York. Ditto Daniel Jones, who did not see his fifth-year option exercised. After entering this offseason in salary cap trouble, the Giants are projected to be in the top five in 2023 space.

If no Barkley extension occurs this year, he would be headed for free agency. A franchise tag, which CBS Sports’ Joel Corry projects to come in around $10.1MM, would then be an option for the Giants. The Steelers went to this well with Bell, twice; the second time caused quite the stir in 2018. The tag would, however, be a way for the Giants to extend this partnership without committing long-term to a player at such a volatile position. Barkley will have banked more than $38MM on his rookie contract, separating him from most modern backs. Through that lens, an extension would be less financially important for his future. Should Barkley be on a Pro Bowl pace by midseason, it would be interesting to see if he would entertain an extension in the $12MM-AAV range — especially with the cap rising again — or push this situation to the March 2023 tag deadline.

Barkley hitting free agency next year would, should he avoid a severe injury this season, place a top-tier running back in a crowded marketplace. Kareem Hunt, Josh Jacobs, Miles Sanders, David Montgomery and Damien Harris are among the running backs on expiring contracts. We have a long way to go before the prospect of Barkley hitting the market emerges, but his nice start to a contract year opens the door to a few possible futures. Which one will end up transpiring?

This Date In Transactions History: Browns Trade WR Josh Gordon To Patriots

On this date in 2018, the Josh Gordon saga ended in Cleveland. Following six-plus years of controversy, the Browns shipped the embattled wideout to the Patriots for a fifth-round pick.

A second-round pick in the 2012 NFL Supplemental Draft, Gordon quickly made a name for himself in Cleveland. Following a productive rookie campaign, the receiver exploded in 2013. Despite missing the first two games for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, Gordon finished the year with 87 receptions for 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns, earning him first-team All-Pro honors.

Gordon was slapped with another suspension prior to the 2014 campaign, but the ban was reduced to 10 games and the receiver proceeded to average about 61 yards per game in his five appearances. The NFL laid down the hammer the following offseason, suspending Gordon for the entire 2015 campaign. He was set to return after sitting out the first four games of the 2016 campaign, but he ended up stepping away from the NFL for the entire season.

He was finally reinstated late during the 2017 campaign, and after spending two years away from the game, Gordon finished with 335 receiving yards in five contests. There was hope that he’d emerge as a main piece in Cleveland’s offense for the 2018 campaign, but he quickly found himself in the dog house. While the organization publicly stated they were frustrated with Gordon’s hamstring injury, some in the Browns’ organization reportedly believed Gordon slipped in his recovery program, and it was his rampant off-field issues that finally prompted the Browns to cut the cord.

The Browns later indicated that they were prepared to cut the wideout, but a trade market naturally developed. Cleveland preferred to send Gordon to the NFC, with Dallas, Washington, and San Francisco emerging as potential suitors. While the Browns were seeking a sixth-round pick, New England ponied by a fifth rounder and acquired the receiver on September 17, 2018.

It was a low-risk move for a Patriots team that had previously gambled on reclamation projects, and it was assumed the wideout would have the shortest of leashes with Bill Belichick in charge. From an on-field perspective, the Patriots were in desperate need of receivers. With Julian Edelman sitting out the first four games due to a suspension, Tom Brady was eyeing Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett as his top wideouts. Gordon immediately came in and produced, finishing with 40 receptions for 720 yards and three touchdowns.

Gordon once again stepped away from the NFL towards the end of that season, with the NFL later revealing that he was facing an indefinite ban for violating the terms of his conditional reinstatement. The Patriots proceeded to move on and win the Super Bowl without Gordon’s services.

The wideout returned for the 2019 season, and he started each of the Patriots first six games, collecting 20 receptions for 287 yards and one touchdown. A knee injury landed him on IR, and the Patriots ended up cutting bait with him in October. He later caught on with the Seahawks, but he hauled in only seven receptions in five games before getting hit with his fifth career suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Gordon sat out the entire 2020 campaign before reemerging with the Chiefs last year, where he got into 12 games. He signed with the Titans practice squad earlier this month.

There was hope that Gordon may be able to revive his career in New England. While the receiver showed that he could still be productive when he was on the field, he also continued to prove that he couldn’t be counted on from an off-field perspective. Four years later, the 31-year-old is currently fighting to keep his career alive.

PFR Glossary: Returning From IR

Week 1 injuries are starting to affect teams’ rosters. Starters and role players are being placed on injured reserve, a status that continues to evolve via offseason NFL rule changes. More adjustments took place in 2022, which shook up the IR setup of the past two years.

In 2020 and 2021, players placed on IR after the roster cutdown to 53 were permitted to return after three games missed. Teams also were granted considerable flexibility in terms of IR-return volume. After the pre-2020 rules had placed strict limitations on the number of players teams could activate from injured reserve during a season, the NFL — due to the roster uncertainty the COVID-19 pandemic caused — removed the limit of players who could return from IR. Limitations returned this year.

Eight injury-related activations can occur per team over the course of the 2022 season. These apply to players placed on teams’ injured reserve, reserve/non-football injury or reserve/non-football illness lists. The NFL, which removed the reserve/COVID-19 list as a 2022 roster designation, also raised the floor for mandatory games missed due to IR from three to four. Any player moved to IR this week cannot return until Week 6.

While the eight-player rule will reinsert strategy into the IR equation for teams, this maximum is far less restrictive than it was not long ago. For years before the 2012 season, a player being placed on injured reserve meant he was done for the season’s remainder. From 2012-16, teams could bring one player off IR. The player must have missed at least eight games before returning, however, and was not permitted to practice for six weeks. In 2017, two IR-boomerang slots were allowed. The eight-week waiting period remained, but teams could move two players from IR back onto their 53-man rosters.

The 2017 change led to more strategy regarding which players teams would prioritize. That system lasted for three seasons. The March 2020 CBA ratification was to allow three players to be activated from IR per season, but the eight-week waiting period was to remain. The pandemic prompted the league to make sweeping changes five months later, with the August 2020 COVID-related CBA revisions opening the floodgates for in-season activations.

This year’s changes also will enable teams to use two IR-return slots on the same player. Although the league’s first two 2020s seasons featured unlimited activations, players could only be brought back from an injury list once per season. If a player were activated and then placed back on IR, he was done for the rest of the year. In 2022, teams are allowed to activate a player from IR twice (but not three times). If a team were to activate a player off IR twice this year, each move would count toward that team’s eight-activation limit.

Offseason In Review: Seattle Seahawks

The Russell Wilson era doubled as the peak of the Seahawks’ 46-year existence. The third-round pick Seattle invested in 10 years ago helped the team build a championship nucleus, and after most of the defensive cogs from the back-to-back Super Bowl teams departed, Wilson’s development as a passer kept the Seahawks in the playoff mix. This season will look quite different for the franchise, which bailed on the prospect of an 11th Wilson season and third extension.

Trades:

Hours after Aaron Rodgers‘ Packers recommitment, the Broncos pulled the trigger for Wilson. Pete Carroll‘s Combine comments indicating the Seahawks had “no intention” of trading the top quarterback in franchise history came after GM John Schneider had opened trade talks with Broncos counterpart George Paton. The Wilson-Carroll relationship had steadily deteriorated, and the Seahawks became leery of what it would cost to give their star QB a fourth contract. The noise Wilson made about the team’s offensive line and the trade-destination list that surfaced in February 2021 irked the Seahawks, and the 11th-year veteran was unlikely to do another Seahawks extension. This all led to the HC-GM combo that drafted Wilson dealing him for major draft capital with two years left on his contract.

Being willing to part with three first-round picks for Wilson, the Commanders may have presented the best trade package. But Washington was not a Wilson-preferred destination. Although the Bears, Cowboys, Raiders and Saints were on Wilson’s initial 2021 destination list, the Broncos and Giants were quietly added late last year. The Giants and Saints called the Seahawks this year, but Wilson — one of the few NFLers with a no-trade clause — had zeroed in on Denver. For the first time since Matt Hasselbeck‘s 2011 exit ushered in Tarvaris Jackson as Seattle’s starter, the Seahawks have a foggy future at the game’s premier position.

Carroll’s run-heavy M.O. and the Seahawks’ penchant for skimping on offensive linemen (Duane Brown excepted) gnawed at Wilson, the centerpiece of middling rosters over the past few seasons. Seattle attempted more run plays than any team over Wilson’s tenure. Some of those were Wilson scrambles, but Brady Henderson ESPN.com notes team ranked 29th in designed pass-play rate since 2012. That number only climbed to 21st since Wilson broke through as a passer in 2015, making atypical use of a top-tier quarterback contract. Since the “Let Russ Cook” start to the 2020 season preceded a midseason swoon, Carroll largely went back to his preferred style.

Wilson’s extension talks in 2015 and 2019 generated a number of headlines, and each resolution produced a big number ($21.9MM per year in 2015, then-NFL-high $35MM per annum in ’19). Seattle could not recapture the formula it had when it capitalized on one of the great bargains in NFL history; Wilson’s four-year, $2.99MM deal that was on the team’s books as it claimed consecutive NFC championships. During Wilson’s second and third contracts, however, he became one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks.

Since a 2015 season in which Wilson broke through for 34 touchdown passes (after tossing 20 in 2014), his QBR figures have ranked fourth, 15th, 10th, 11th, fifth, eighth and 10th. The final number came despite Wilson struggling in the games immediately following his finger surgery. Wilson made the Seahawks one of the NFL’s highest-floor teams, though rosters that were not on the level of the 2013 and ’14 squads continually ran into first- or second-round obstacles following Super Bowl XLIX.

Some Seahawks staffers viewed Wilson as declining, at 33, but trading him forfeits the franchise access to the NFL’s most common championship route. Carroll opting for a restart/transition year is a bit curious, considering he is the league’s oldest active HC (71 next week). The strategy will apply considerable pressure for Carroll (signed through 2025) and Schneider to strike gold again. Two first-round picks next year — when a far better QB class is expected to emerge compared to 2022 — will help Seattle’s cause, but the odds are against the Seahawks finding a player capable of Wilson’s performance level. The Seahawks also may see the Texans and Lions, each holding two first-rounders without a clear long-term QB plan as well, outflank them in the 2023 draft.

Schneider sought Lock, having liked the former Missouri prospect in 2019, but the failed Broncos starter not beating out Geno Smith represents an early warning sign of the post-Wilson road the Seahawks are about to travel. Lock and the other below-average brigade of Broncos quarterbacks hindered Fant’s progress, but the former No. 20 overall pick may find footing difficult with Smith and/or Lock (again). Harris, 31, became a steady contributor in Denver, moving into a starter role and helping Vic Fangio‘s defense as an inside rusher and frequent passing-lane deterrent. Harris’ 19 passes defensed during his starter years (2019-21) lead all defensive linemen. Harris’ three-year, $27MM Broncos-authorized extension runs through 2023.

Free agency additions:

Nwosu will move from Joey Bosa‘s sidekick to a player that will be expected to produce as a No. 1 edge rusher. Swapping out Carlos Dunlap for a younger talent, the Seahawks will bank on Nwosu taking a step forward. Even with Bosa drawing O-lines’ attention, Nwosu registered just five sacks in 17 games. Nwosu’s 30 pressures did rank 31st last season and were six more than any Seahawk logged in 2021. A second-rounder out of USC, Nwosu should be coming into his prime. He will not turn 26 until December.

A hybrid player who should fit as the Seahawks transition to more 3-4 looks, Jefferson is back after two years away. Seeing time at D-end and D-tackle, Jefferson started 24 games for the Seahawks’ 2018 and ’19 iterations. He made 17 starts for the Raiders last season, totaling career-high numbers in sacks (4.5) and quarterback hits (16).

While Jefferson should be a rotational cog in Seattle, Blythe looks set to go from seldom-used Chiefs backup (12 offensive snaps behind Creed Humphrey last season) to a full-time starter again. This could be an upgrade for the Seahawks. Blythe started at center and guard for three straight seasons with the Rams, including their Super Bowl LIII-qualifying squad. Pro Football Focus graded him as a top-11 guard in 2018 and top-11 center two years later. Blythe, 30, has a clear comeback opportunity for a team that will make no secret of its desire for a smashmouth approach.

Re-signings:

This season brings 11 starting quarterbacks on rookie salaries, two more on fifth-year options and 19 tied to veteran deals. The veteran contingent now houses nine QBs earning $40MM-plus on average. Four more are tied to contracts worth more than $30MM per year. Tom Brady, who has a few income streams and a lavish FOX contract awaiting him, and Ryan Tannehill come in just south of $30MM AAV. Jameis Winston signed a two-year, $28MM pact, while Marcus Mariota — who has not been a full-time starter since October 2019 — signed a two-year, $18.75MM accord in March. Mitch Trubisky signed a two-year, $14MM Steelers deal. Then, there is Geno Smith, a 10th-year veteran who will be a 2022 starting quarterback on a $1.26MM base salary.

Smith, 32 next month, will make his first Week 1 start since 2014. Knocked off his Jets QB1 perch in 2015 (the IK Enemkpali incident), Smith not only never regained any footing with the Jets; he kept signing with teams who employed historically durable quarterbacks (Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Russell Wilson). In what looks like a transition year in which the Seahawks will be connected to college quarterbacks, Smith returns. Discipline for his January DUI arrest may loom, however, though it is not a lock punishment comes this year.

Largely unimpressive with the Jets, the veteran backup fared better than expected in his midseason Wilson relief effort (68% completion rate, 5-1 TD-INT ratio, 7.4 yards per attempt). It would seem Lock will work his way into some starts this season, but Smith does profile as the better fit for a conservative offense. For now, Smith will make one of the stranger Week 1 re-emergences in modern QB annals. Although this $3.5MM number is a raise for Smith, the salaries Mariota, Winston and Trubisky are earning illustrate the rest of the league’s view of him. Smith also re-signed in mid-April, after the Browns chose Jacoby Brissett — who is also out-earning Smith — to fill in for Deshaun Watson.

The Seahawks kept passing on the quarterbacks that fell to this year’s third round; they did not view Malik Willis as NFL-ready. Waiting for a superior 2023 class makes sense, and Carroll said post-draft the Seahawks were unlikely to make another QB trade this offseason. They stuck to their guns.

Seattle let Carolina have Baker Mayfield for a conditional 2024 fifth-rounder and showed no interest in parting with an asset for Jimmy Garoppolo. The Seahawks did homework on Garoppolo and lurked as a landing spot for the former Super Bowl starter in free agency, but given how diligent Garoppolo’s camp was in attempting to find a team that would pay more than the money he is now tied to with the 49ers ($6.5MM salary; $15.45MM max value via playing-time incentives), it looks like the Seahawks were not willing to offer too much money. Garoppolo and Mayfield have obviously proven much more than Smith; that could have impeded Seattle’s 2022 plan.

Dealt repeated injury blows, Penny made an 11th-hour push for some second-contract cash and will be Seattle’s Week 1 starter for the first time. As fantasy GMs observed, Penny exploded for four 130-yard rushing games in his final five contests and finished with an NFL-leading 6.3 yards per carry (on 119 totes) in his fourth season. The surprise 2018 first-rounder has missed 28 career games, but the Seahawks offered lower-middle-class running back dough to see how legitimate that season-closing stretch was.

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Offseason In Review: Washington Commanders

Compared to the Alex Smith-led seven-win 2020 Washington edition that won the NFC East, Washington’s seven-win 2021 flew well under the radar. Dak Prescott‘s return predictably raised the bar in the division, which produced a historically bad collection of teams in 2020. Washington will have a third team name in four years and a sixth Week 1 starting quarterback over the past six. But coaching-staff continuity exists. And the Commanders’ receiving corps stands to be deeper than it has been since the Pierre GarconDeSean JacksonJamison Crowder period.

Of course, all eyes will be on the team’s third QB1 trade acquisition since 2018. The outcome of that deal probably determines how much longer Ron Rivera‘s staff lasts with the team.

Trades:

  • Acquired QB Carson Wentz, 2022 second-round pick, 2022 seventh-rounder from Colts for 2022 second- and third-round picks and conditional 2023 Day 2 choice

After seeing its 2021 Ryan Fitzpatrick plan last all of 16 snaps, Washington needed to pivot to wild-card surprise Taylor Heinicke as a full-time starter. The Commanders held the No. 11 pick in a draft that featured an unremarkable quarterback crop. These factors likely pushed Rivera to declare the team needed a veteran. While Washington made inquiries on just about every available arm — one of those an offer of three first-round picks for Russell Wilson, who refused to waive his no-trade clause for the Commanders — the end result of the team’s QB crusade surprised many.

Jim Irsay had made it no secret he wanted Wentz gone, limiting Colts GM Chris Ballard’s leverage. It is not known what other teams were in the Wentz market. Despite what appeared to be a limited market, Indianapolis sent Wentz to Washington for a surprising haul. The Commanders initially offered fourth- and sixth-rounders for Wentz, but Ballard drove them to a third, a conditional third that could climb to a second, and a 2022 Round 2 pick swap that allowed the Colts to move up five spots. Similar to the terms of 2021’s Eagles-Colts Wentz deal, if the QB plays 70% of the Commanders’ snaps this year, the 2023 pick becomes a second-rounder.

Wentz’s stock has undoubtedly plunged since his would-be MVP season in 2017, but there are multiple ways to look at his Colts season. On one hand, the Colts equipped him with his old offensive coordinator (Frank Reich), a strong O-line and the runaway rushing champion (Jonathan Taylor). The Colts also trotted out a receiving corps that featured Michael Pittman Jr. and, with T.Y. Hilton aging and Parris Campbell again injured, little else of consequence. Wentz, 29, still threw 27 touchdown passes, seven interceptions and rated ninth in QBR — his highest finish since slotting first in 2017.

Taking issue with Wentz’s leadership, erratic play and refusal to be vaccinated against COVID-19, issues leading to a late-season Colts collapse, Irsay ordered his staff to ditch the six-year veteran — who cost Indy first- and second-round picks. Although the Commanders were high on Wentz’s arm strength and 6-foot-5 frame, he was far from their first choice. Wilson and Aaron Rodgers could not be acquired, and Washington even sent out an Andrew Luck feeler. The former Colts star appears to be content in retirement. In Wentz, however, the team probably has its best quarterback since before a pre-injury Alex Smith.

This represents Rivera’s first big swing at QB in Washington. He inherited Smith and Dwayne Haskins and passed on a trade-up for Justin Fields or Mac Jones in 2021. March’s deal included the Commanders taking on all of Wentz’s salary. Washington’s decision immediately produced a fair amount of criticism. As unpopular as Wentz has become, he does have nonguaranteed salaries ($20MM, $21MM) in 2023 and ’24. And he also fared decently (11th in QBR) with a 2019 Eagles team riddled with receiver injuries. But this Commanders setup profiles as the North Dakota State product’s last chance to be a locked-in QB1.

Depending on Curtis Samuel‘s health, the Commanders have given Wentz perhaps the best receiving corps of his career. How this season goes could well determine if Rivera has a post-2022 future in Washington. That is a lot of hope to place on a player the Eagles and Colts jettisoned in consecutive offseasons, but the Commanders were short on options. The Cousins-Bruce Allen falling out led the team’s only recent franchise-QB hope out of town, and Smith’s injury wrecked the subsequent plan. Haskins did not pan out, and Fitzpatrick was a low-end stopgap. Since Cousins’ 2018 exit, Washington has started an NFL-most 10 quarterbacks. Not much is expected of this Commanders team; Wentz silencing swaths of skeptics would change that.

Free agency additions:

Like Wentz, Washington circled to retreads at guard. The Commanders are team No. 3 for Norwell and No. 4 for Turner; each is an eight-year veteran that has history with Rivera. These signings — Norwell in March, Turner in May — reunite the Panthers’ Super Bowl 50 guard tandem. With Joey Slye at kicker and Samuel making it three ex-Carolina cogs who will start for the Commanders’ offense, Panthers North headquarters appears to have moved from Buffalo to Washington.

Norwell, 30, fetched a monster free agency deal from the Jaguars in 2018. That came after the Panthers prioritized Turner — via a four-year, $45MM deal — and let Norwell walk. Jacksonville did not see Norwell replicate his contract-year All-Pro season, but Pro Football Focus still gave the former UDFA top-30 grades from 2018-20. Norwell nevertheless took a pay cut after the 2020 season. Last year, Norwell dropped outside PFF’s top 40 at guard.

Turner’s market appeared more limited than Norwell’s. The Chargers punted on their UFA deal with the longtime Panthers starter in 2021, and the Steelers did not show interest in extending their partnership beyond one year. After the former third-round pick submitted a rough 2020, which included seven injury-induced absences, the Steelers received 17 starts from their rental guard. Turner, 29, was viewed as an upper-echelon guard for most of his Carolina tenure. Upon rejoining Rivera and OC Scott Turner in D.C., however, Turner did miss a month of training camp due to a quad injury.

While neither Turner nor Norwell at this juncture of their careers profiles as a long-term solution, Rivera’s old charges do give his current team one of the NFL’s most experienced guard duos. Norwell has 111 career starts, Turner 106. Swingman Wes Schweitzer (54 career starts; 18 with Washington) offers considerable experience as well.

Re-signings:

Although Brandon Scherff‘s seven-year Commanders tenure is over, the team is still banking on veterans up front. Leno joins Norwell and Turner as a ninth-year veteran. Right tackle Sam Cosmi represents the team’s only rookie-deal O-line starter; the rest of the group has a combined 29 seasons’ worth of experience. Backups Schweitzer and Lucas are also veteran-contract players.

PFF’s numbers are not the end-all, be-all, but the advanced metrics site gave Leno a career-high grade and slotted him as its 12th-best tackle last season. That marked a staggering bounce-back year for the longtime Bears left tackle, whom Chicago cut shortly after the 2021 draft. Washington took a $5MM flier on Leno last year and will now look to him to be a longer-term answer. Washington had cycled through blindsides since the 2019 Trent Williams fiasco, going from Donald Penn to Lucas to Leno. The former Bears seventh-rounder started 17 Washington games and, reminding of Morgan Moses, has not missed a contest since his 2014 rookie year.

Leno now tops the Commanders’ cost-controlled O-line, which ditched Scherff’s franchise tag redux cap figure this offseason. While no Commanders blocker is attached to a top-five salary at his respective position — Leno’s comes in 18th among left tackles — Chase Roullier‘s $10.13MM-per-year deal does rank sixth among centers. Post-Scherff, the Commanders are counting on Leno and Roullier to lead the way.

Moving the number of ninth-year vets on the Commanders’ O-line to four, Lucas worked as Washington’s right and left tackle at points during his two-year tenure with the team. The Rivera-era acquisition could fill in with Washington’s 1s, as he did 15 times from 2020-21, but Leno-Cosmi is the team’s preferred tackle configuration. PFF gave Lucas and Cosmi near-identical 2021 grades, slotting each inside the top 30 at the position. Lucas, 31, has played for five teams since coming into the league as a UDFA. He should be nice depth for an O-line flooded with experience.

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Offseason In Review: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

As a competitive team with an older roster, the Buccaneers have seen plenty of turnover in recent years. However, heading into the offseason, the team was facing the biggest departure of all: Tom Brady. The QB’s retirement and subsequent decision to unretire ended up working out for the Buccaneers, but it also highlighted how reliant the organization is on the future Hall of Famer. So, it wasn’t a huge surprise when most of the team’s offseason moves seemed to be an attempt to pacify Brady, especially with Bruce Arians stepping down as head coach in favor of Todd Bowles.

Despite these significant changes (and non-changes), the Buccaneers were able to maintain continuity this offseason, and that should set them up for another deep postseason run in 2022.

Trades:

The Buccaneers have welcomed in a number of former Patriots players since Tom Brady first joined Tampa Bay. This year, they acquired the QB’s former right guard in Shaq Mason for a fifth-round pick. This was a low price to pay for a lineman with Mason’s experience, especially a lineman who Brady trusts. Mason has missed at least one game in each of the past four seasons, but he’s been plenty productive when he’s on the field. Pro Football Focus ranked Mason fourth among 82 qualifying guards in 2021, the sixth-straight season he’s finished with a top-1o score. Mason will lead a new-look guard corps in 2022.

Notable signings:

Tom Brady has never had an issue attracting wide receivers to his squad, and that was certainly the case this past offseason. The Buccaneers first stole a receiver from a division foe when they inked former Falcons wideout Russell Gage to a three-year deal. The 26-year-old has finished each of the past two seasons with 700 receiving yards, and he was expected to slide in third on the depth chart behind Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.

Later in the offseason, the Buccaneers managed to add another former Falcons wideout in Julio Jones. The former All-Pro receiver hasn’t compiled more than 1,000 yards since 2019, and his numbers dropped off during his only season in Tennessee in 2021, as the veteran finished with career-lows across the board (31 receptions, 434 yards, one touchdown). Still, his track record should give him the nod on the depth chart ahead of Gage. Either way, when considering Godwin’s ongoing recovery from his ACL tear, it’s clear why the organization wasn’t going to deny too much depth at the position.

Elsewhere on offense, the Buccaneers needed to find at least one body to replace the departed Rob Gronkowski (retirement) and O.J. Howard (left in free agency). In came Kyle Rudolph, who should be able to soak up some of those offensive snaps. The veteran had a three-year stretch between 2016 and 2018 when he averaged more than 660 receiving yards per season, but since that time, he’s seen that number drop to 319 yards per year. Of course, the 32-year-old tight end won’t be expected to pick up a ton of yardage, and he’ll provide Brady with another big TE target (in addition to Cameron Brate) to throw to in the end zone. On the offensive line, Fred Johnson has only started eight of his 23 games, but his ability to play both tackle and guard earned him a spot on Tampa Bay’s 53-man roster.

Defensively, the team did some work to add to their defensive line when they inked Akiem Hicks to a one-year pact. The former Pro Bowler has battled injuries recently, missing 20 games over the past three seasons. His versatility makes him an asset on any defensive line, and he’ll likely see some time at defensive tackle in 2022. Regardless of his role, he’s good for at least a handful of sacks. Otherwise, the team added a few veterans to their secondary, with both Keanu Neal and Logan Ryan expected to play depth roles in 2022. After starting 14 games for the Falcons in 2020, Neal started only five of his 15 games in 2021, but he still finished the campaign with 72 tackles. Ryan, who made a name for himself as a cornerback with the Patriots, has transitioned into more of a safety role in recent years, including a 2021 campaign where he finished with a career-high 117 tackles in 15 starts for the Giants.

Notable losses:

Whlle Tom Brady and his top two receivers will be back in 2022, the offense will look a bit different. The biggest loss comes at tight end, as future Hall of Famer Rob Gronkowski decided to call it a career. After returning from a brief retirement to appear in 16 games for the Bucs in 2020, Gronk once again dealt with injuries in 2021. Despite sitting out five games, the tight end still managed to finish the season with 802 receiving yards, his highest total since the 2017 season. Gronk also continued being a force in the end zone, hauling in six touchdowns. While O.J. Howard never really clicked with Brady, he’s another notable loss at the position, and the Buccaneers will be hoping some newcomers (primarily veteran Kyle Rudolph and rookie Cade Otton) can pick up some of the slack in 2022.

Antonio Brown‘s tenure with the Buccaneers truly came to an end during his sideline outburst in Week 17. The wideout was officially released in early January. Brown was productive in 15 games across two seasons with the Buccaneers, collecting 1,208 yards and and eight touchdowns. Tampa Bay already added Russell Gage and Julio Jones to their WRs room, and the duo should be able to replicate Brown’s production without the headache. Another notable offensive loss was in Ronald Jones, who started 25 games for Tampa Bay over the past three years. After leading the Buccaneers with 978 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in 2020, Jones found himself behind Leonard Fournette on the depth chart in 2022. The Bucs will now pair Fournette with rookie third-round pick Rachaad White.

On the offensive line, Brady will have to get used to a pair of new starting offensive guards. Despite earning his first career Pro Bowl nod in 2021, Ali Marpet decided to retire after seven NFL seasons. The offensive guard started each of his 16 games in 2021, with Pro Football Focus grading him as the NFL’s seventh-best guard. Alex Cappa, who started 17 games last season, was 19th on that same list, and that’s a big reason why the former third-round pick was able to secure a $35MM deal from the Bengals. Trade acquisition Shaq Mason will slide into one of the starting guard spots, with rookie second-round pick Luke Goedeke also getting a nod.

Defensively, the Buccaneers chose not to re-sign a pair of big-name players. Ndamukong Suh hasn’t missed a start for Tampa Bay over the past three seasons, collecting 14.5 sacks in 49 games (including six sacks in each of the past two seasons). However, he already saw a reduced role in 2021, with the defensive lineman getting into a career-low 63 percent of his team’s defensive snaps. He also didn’t earn the highest praise from Pro Football Focus, with the site ranking him 73rd among 108 qualifying interior defenders. It’s a similar story with JPP. Jason Pierre-Paul started each of his 12 games in 2021, but after averaging more than 10 sacks per season through his first three years with the organization, he was limited to only 2.5 last year. Both veterans remain free agents.

Jordan Whitehead was a fourth-round pick by the Buccaneers in 2018, and he’s started 55 of his 59 appearances since entering the NFL. That includes a 2021 campaign where he started 14 games while compiling 73 tackles, eight passes defended, and a pair of interceptions. He also graded as PFF’s 27th-best safety (among 92 qualifiers), earning him a two-year contract from the Jets.

Re-signed:

While the Buccaneers let a lot of players walk, they also made sure to maintain some continuity on both sides of the ball. The most notable re-signing was wideout Chris Godwin, who has transformed into one of the NFL’s most consistent receivers and one of Tom Brady‘s preferred targets. Despite an ACL tear that ended his 2021 season prematurely (and could end up lingering into the 2022 campaign), the organization still felt comfortable giving him a three-year deal worth $60MM, including $40MM guaranteed. Assuming Godwin fully recovers from his injury, that contract could prove to be a bargain in later years.

The Buccaneers also re-signed Leonard Fournette to a three-year, $21MM deal. This was a significant investment after the RB was cast off in Jacksonville, but following a so-so first season in Tampa, Fournette came into his own in 2021. The running back finished last year with 1,266 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns, and he’ll continue to be an important part of Tampa Bay’s offense for the foreseeable future.

Elsewhere on offense, the team re-signed some depth pieces. Breshad Perriman‘s return to Tampa Bay during the 2021 season saw him finish with only 167 receiving yards in six games, and the veteran will provide the team with an experienced end-of-the-depth-chart piece. The same goes for veteran running back Giovani Bernard. The former Bengals pass-catcher finished his first season in Tampa Bay with only 181 offensive yards, but he’ll stick around for the time being as some extra depth. Blaine Gabbert is back for another season as Brady’s backup, with the veteran having attempted 27 passes over the past two seasons.

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Offseason In Review: Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys followed their third NFC East title in six seasons with an offseason in which mainstays departed. Amari Cooper, La’el Collins and Randy Gregory‘s exits then preceded Tyron Smith suffering a second severe injury in three years. Although Dallas’ 2021 defensive resurgence should provide a reasonable safety net to protect against the changes that have unfolded on offense, this rather popular team is facing some questions as it attempts to become the first back-to-back NFC East champion since the early-aughts Eagles.

Trades:

  • Dealt WR Amari Cooper and 2022 sixth-round pick to Browns for 2022 fifth- and sixth-rounders

This trade did not age well, but the Cowboys cannot be completely faulted for failing to predict one of the biggest positional-market booms in many years was imminent. Cooper carried a receiver-high $21MM cap hold in 2021, and the Cowboys constructed his 2020 contract to allow for post-Year 2 flexibility. Dallas took the de facto opt-out. That both generated a low-level return and, thanks to injuries the team was already battling and later encountered, Cooper going to Cleveland in a pick-swap deal began this Dallas offseason on a low note.

The Cowboys have a few lucrative extensions on their books — most notably the deals doled out to Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott — and have needed to get out on certain players mid-prime. Byron Jones left in 2020; the team turned out to be wise not to beat out the Dolphins for him. Cooper is not positioned for immediate success, with Deshaun Watson‘s suspension leaving the Browns with their Jacoby Brissett backup plan for 11 games. But, as Michael Gallup‘s ACL rehab and James Washington‘s foot fracture leave the Cowboys without much experience at the position, Cooper’s $20MM salary would not appear too troublesome now.

Cooper’s per-year salary has dropped from a top-five receiver figure — at the time of the trade — into a tie for 12th. With three nonguaranteed years left on the deal, the Cowboys had the Pro Bowl target locked into that price for the rest of his prime. Cooper’s route-running chops and big-play ability resurrected a fast-fading 2018 Cowboys season — which produced the team’s only Dak-era playoff win — and the former top-five draftee undoubtedly helped CeeDee Lamb‘s progress.

Before a modest trade sweepstakes ensued days ahead of the Davante Adams trade setting the receiver market ablaze, the Cowboys considered cutting the eighth-year veteran. But the team opening with the Buccaneers and Bengals may highlight the void the Cooper trade and Gallup injury created. And the light trade return — a shell of the hauls the Packers, Chiefs, Titans and Ravens received in their deals for admittedly better or younger performers — does not help matters. The inconsistency Cooper displayed had him well off the first tier at his position, which surely factored into the Cowboys’ decision to move on. But the five-time 1,000-yard wideout aided Prescott’s development as well. Even coming off a down 2021, Cooper will likely be missed this season.

Free agency additions:

Excepting the safety positions, Dallas should trot out 20 homegrown starters against the Bucs. UFAs filled in some gaps this year, however. The two most pivotal additions are currently on the team’s practice squad.

Peters’ P-squad status notwithstanding, this marks by far Dallas’ most important free agency add. Although the team is giving the likely Hall of Famer a ramp-up period, it will mark a bit of a strange turn if/when first-rounder Tyler Smith slides to left tackle for a one- or two-game period and then moves back to a position at which he has far less experience. Dallas drafted its younger Smith blocker as its left tackle of the future, and while the Tulsa product starting at two positions in his first NFL month will be odd, Peters’ presence should make that early instability worthwhile.

The Tyron Smith avulsion fracture dealt the Cowboys a severe blow, but it is not like the team should have expected an extended stretch of good health from the future Hall of Famer. Tyron Smith missed 14 games two seasons ago and has missed 32 in total since 2016. The other current Cowboy tackle ticketed for Canton remains a top-shelf blindsider when healthy, as his five Pro Bowls during that injury-affected stretch show, but the Cowboys have needed insurance here for years. Peters, 40, will provide it for now. But the longtime Eagle has also missed 20 regular-season games since 2017. Also when factoring in Tyler Smith’s status, the left side of Dallas’ offensive line could be touch and go this season.

Tyron’s injury will give Peters a chance to become the fourth tackle to play an age-40 season, following Hall of Famer Jackie Slater, 20-year veteran Ray Brown (1985-2004) and Andrew Whitworth. Peters (nine Pro Bowls, two first-team All-Pro nods) performing what could be his final NFL assignment well — for perhaps the NFL’s highest-profile team — will be an obvious boon for the 19th-year veteran’s chances at a first-ballot induction.

Peters bounced back from his eight-game 2020 with an anonymous 15-game run in Chicago, as the Ryan PaceMatt Nagy regime’s wheels were coming off. Pro Football Focus graded Peters as a top-25 tackle last season. The Cowboys will pine for one more season on that level, as it would keep their hopes of bringing Tyler Smith along slowly. Connor McGovern, who was holding his own against the younger Smith in this summer’s left guard competition, represents a nice swingman once Peters takes over on the left side.

The Randy Gregory snafu and Von Miller derby ending in Buffalo led the Cowboys to Fowler, whose value had cratered after an uninspiring two-year Atlanta stay. Despite this being Year 8 for the former top-five pick, Fowler only turned 28 last month. He delivered intermittent production with the Jaguars and Rams, peaking with an 11.5-sack year alongside Aaron Donald — an arrangement that has catalyzed other pass rushers, including Miller — in 2019. The Falcons gave Fowler a three-year, $48MM deal in 2020. The edge rusher’s two-year output: 7.5 sacks, 16 QB hits. The Cowboys planning a rotational role for the former Dan Quinn-era Falcons pickup is more sensible than starting him, and he is still young enough to bounce back. This could be a make-or-break season for those prospects, however.

While the loose connections to Bobby Wagner generated interest, the Cowboys were not a serious contender for the future first-ballot Hall of Famer. Barr and Micah Parsons on the same defense nevertheless intrigues, though obviously not as much as it would have if Barr’s 2010s version were here. A college edge rusher, Barr transitioned to a 4-3 outside linebacker role under current Dallas assistant George Edwards in Minnesota. Parsons’ time as a rusher could open the door for more Barr looks on the second level.

On a team that rosters injury-prone Leighton Vander Esch and has rookie Damone Clark potentially out for the season due to a pre-existing injury, Barr, 30, may move into position to be a regular — even as not much free agency buzz surrounding him until July. Despite not being on the level he was during his prime, the four-time Pro Bowler still graded as a top-30 PFF linebacker in 2021.

Camp struggles exposed the Cowboys’ low-key Greg Zuerlein replacement plan, and Maher — following the exists of Lirim Hajrullahu and rookie UDFA Jonathan Garibay — is back. The multi-stint CFLer remains tied to that eye-popping 60-yard field goal record, and until Justin Tucker kicks a third from that range, Maher is the only player to make three 60-plus-yarders. Of course, Dallas cut Maher late during a 2019 season in which he made a franchise-record 63-yarder but connected on fewer than 67% of his tries. After a 16-for-18 Saints showing as part of their 2021 kicker carousel, the 32-year-old specialist has a second shot in Dallas.

Re-signings:

Gallup, 26, is two years younger than Cooper. Choosing the sidekick over the more accomplished lead actor — at a near-$9MM-per-year discount — makes sense for the Cowboys. They just better be right about Gallup’s trajectory. With Cooper gone, Gallup has a clear runway to be Lamb’s wingman. The TCU product combined for 1,950 yards from 2019-20, giving the Cowboys a good indication of his capabilities. Injuries threw Gallup off track last year but also kept him within Dallas’ price range.

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Offseason In Review: Atlanta Falcons

As one of five NFL franchises entering last year with a new head coach and one of two who replaced their general manager as well, the Falcons saw middling results to start the Arthur Smith-Terry Fontenot era. At 7-10 in 2021, they surpassed the accomplishments of two of those other franchises, with the Jets finishing 4-13 and the Lions finishing 3-13-1, but failed to reach a winning record like the other two (9-8 Chargers and Eagles teams).

In Year 2 under Smith and Fontenot, though, it appears that it is time for a reset. The team moved on from former MVP quarterback Matt Ryan and toward a new path to success. Although the NFC does not appear quite as daunting as the deep AFC, this still looks to be a bit of a rebuilding year for the Falcons.

Trades:

From a team identity standpoint, Ryan’s departure cannot be overstated. The star out of Boston College has been the face of the franchise ever since he completed his first-ever NFL pass attempt for a 62-yard touchdown to wide receiver Michael Jenkins back in 2008. For 14 years, Ryan ensured the Falcons had an answer behind center, starting 222 of a possible 225 regular-season games. That start total tops Steve Bartkowski‘s previous Falcons QB standard by 101.

The franchise’s only MVP winner, Ryan obviously holds countless franchise records. The former No. 3 overall pick performed admirably through Atlanta’s low seasons as well as its highs. Injuries and a lack of surrounding talent have limited his win totals over the years, but the resilient quarterback still managed to win 120 games over his 14 seasons. Ryan’s MVP season fueled his team to Super Bowl LI. He threw 38 touchdown passes to just seven interceptions en route to a league-leading marks in quarterback rating (117.1) and QBR (79.6) that year. Perhaps a perfect display of Ryan’s consistency amid his team’s shortcomings: two years later, Ryan nearly matched his MVP output with 35 TD passes and seven INTs. The team’s record that year: 7-9.

Going into the 2021 season, talk had already begun surrounding Ryan’s future. Many posited it would be wise to trade away the veteran quarterback to build up trade assets to replace him, but owner Arthur Blank insisted that Ryan would remain on the team for 2021. The team eventually restructured Ryan’s contract to lower his cap hit for last year, effectively making him even more difficult to deal in the future.

Early this offseason, Smith made his preference known by claiming he wished for Ryan to remain on the team in 2022. But reports soon surfaced that a succession plan was being discussed. Rumors ran rampant, claiming Ryan was unlikely to get traded and could get his contract restructured once more. Finally, the rumors came to an end when news leaked that Ryan was headed to Indianapolis. As a result of that aforementioned restructure, this trade stuck the Falcons with an NFL-record $40MM in dead money.

Now, the Falcons are staring at two possibilities concerning this season at quarterback. It could be territory the team has not traversed for most of the 21st century. Excluding a transitionary 2007 season that saw games started by quarterbacks Joey Harrington, Chris Redman, and Byron Leftwich, the Falcons have gone into 19 of their previous 20 seasons knowing that either Michael Vick or Ryan would be their starter. Atlanta will hope that 2022 is another transitory situation that will lead to the next long-tenured quarterback in red and black.

Another Falcons trade took place in the weeks after the draft, bringing in a new receiving target for Ryan’s replacement. Edwards, a 2020 third-round pick, took a big step forward in his sophomore season, partially due to the departure of teammate Henry Ruggs. With no Calvin Ridley and rookie first-round pick Drake London easing himself into the NFL after a college injury and a minor preseason malady, Edwards has an opportunity to see extensive time. Pitts is likely to hog most of the targets, as London and Edwards are brought up to speed, but the door is wide open for Edwards to become a regular Falcons contributor in his third season. Two years remain on his rookie contract.

Free agency additions:

Once again, the biggest headline here comes at quarterback. The Falcons reunited Mariota with Smith, the Titans’ offensive coordinator during the former No. 2 overall pick’s last season in Tennessee. The team signed the 28-year-old on the same day it traded away Ryan. The sequence of transactions made it clear that Mariota was brought in to be Ryan’s successor. The intention came to fruition when Mariota was named the team’s starting quarterback two weeks before the preseason.

Atlanta also used its free agency money to bring in some immediate help on defense. The team signed Hayward and Carter four days apart, solidifying starters at corner and outside linebacker, respectively. Hayward’s best years came during his time with the Chargers when, over a two-season period (2016-17), he racked up 11 interceptions and an incredible 42 passes defensed. While 11th-year veteran has not been able to recreate that production since, he remains a reliable outside cornerback — whom Pro Football Focus slotted as a top-15 player at the position last season — who will immediately stand in opposite AJ Terrell.

Carter is a younger defender who delivered decent production when healthy over his four years in New York. The former Giants third-round pick is expected to start alongside fellow free agent addition Evans and Mykal Walker. Evans was brought in to compete with and potentially replace Deion Jones. The latter’s IR stay, which comes after an offseason shoulder surgery, has tabled that matter until at least October. Evans was a full-time starter for much of his rookie contract after being drafted in the first round by Tennessee. As Mariota is reuniting with Smith on offense, Evans is linking back up with ex-Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees.

On offense, the Falcons added some depth. Williams is set to reprise his usual role as a No. 2 running back, this time behind Patterson. Williams’ presence as a veteran backup rusher should be advantageous for the development of rookie Tyler Allgeier. Atlanta also brought in some strong backup pieces for the offensive line. Ifedi will be a solid substitute for tackles Jake Matthews and Kaleb McGary, if needed. A swingman in Denver and a backup in Chicago, Wilkinson was on the verge of supplanting Jalen Mayfield at guard during camp. Mayfield, however, will begin the season on injured reserve.

Re-signings:

Atlanta has experience in long-term relationships with kickers. The team enjoyed 11 strong years out of place kicker Matt Bryant and nine years with punter Matt Bosher, moving on from both in 2019. That year brought Koo’s Falcons introduction. Koo joined the team in Week 10 and, after converting 23 of his 26 field goal attempts, never relinquished the kicking job.

Over the next two seasons, Koo improved on his three misses from 2019 and charted a course to the top of the NFL’s accuracy list. Koo converted 64 of 68 field goal attempts from 2020-21, earning Pro Bowl acclaim in 2020. His 2020s conversion rate of 94.12% tops the NFL. This accuracy led to a nice extension, which made Koo the league’s third-highest-paid kicker. In a time when kickers are on the shortest of leashes, this long-term commitment shows a good amount of faith in the South Korean-American kicker.

The Falcons brought in Patterson last year on a one-year deal to supplement the receivers room and solidify the return game. Little did they know they were signing their starting running back. Over the first eight years of his career, Patterson enjoyed fairly limited success as a receiver with immense success in the return game. Patterson has been named a first- or second-team All-Pro kick returner in all but three seasons of his career and made four Pro Bowls. Tied with Josh Cribbs and Leon Washington for the most kick-return touchdowns in NFL history (eight), Patterson added another dimension to his game in Atlanta. The Falcons will see if he can replicate that effort.

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