One sporting League that hasn’t slowed down as the virus keeps spreading is the NFL, with the free agency frenzy certainly keeping reporters and fans on their toes.
And while there’s doubt the season will start on time, front offices are staying aggressive.
Familiar faces will be in new places when football season eventually ramps up, and all the player movement appears likely to ensure next season’s Playoffs will look very different.
Some clubs have made their tasks on Draft day next month far simpler, while other General Managers appear in over their head.
The rising Phoenix outfit found exciting young quarterback Kyler Murray a WR1 before the Draft, shockingly, trading Houston for All Pro pass-catcher DeAndre Hopkins, who’s in his prime and still contracted for a few more seasons… essentially for a second rounder, an absolute steal.
In that same trade, the Cards also got off the David Johnson contract, a back that appears done. GM Steve Keim made some handy defensive acquisitions, too, improving linebacker depth and growing muscle at the line in Jordan Phillips (Bills).
Arizona’s set themselves to grab a top tackle at the Draft and climb sharply into NCF East contention.
The Colts were the right kind of aggressive, finding a short-term Andrew Luck replacement in Phillip Rivers (Chargers), and using their first-rounder on difference-maker DeForest Buckner (49ers) to add some wreck up front on defence. Rivers has an absolute fortress protecting him on the o-line and GM Chris Ballard is one useful receiver addition away from giving this franchise every chance of competing.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It’s possible the $50M invested in a 43-year-old Tom Brady (Patriots) leaves the Buccs no closer to a Super Bowl, but season ticket sales are already up and this ‘irrelevant’ franchise is back on the map. It’s TBC whether Brady, who’s new offensive line is nothing like the one protecting him in New England, still has enough juice to maximise the best receiver duo in the league – Chris Godwin and Mike Evans – but the turnovers will be down and it’s feasible Tampa’s trending up defence ensures the team’s 2020 season is also substance to go with style.
New GM Andrew Berry made QB Baker Mayfield a happy man, upgrading the surrounding infrastructure, with TE Austin Hooper (Falcons) and tackle Jack Conklin (Titans), and took some upside shots on defence. Post-hype sleeper potential with the Browns this season.
While their reliable, long-term QB Phillip Rivers exits, it was time to split up anyway. The Chargers fixed their offensive line, didn’t pay Melvin Gordon what he wanted (the right move), and have themselves one scary unit on the defensive side of the ball, with CB Chris Harris (Broncos) and DT Linval Joseph (Vikings) giving them an embarrassment of riches.
Tyrod Taylor won’t cut it under centre, but the LA franchise will try to move up from the sixth pick in the Draft, grab one of the top quarterbacks available – Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert – and go all the way while he’s on a rookie contract.
Made two major upgrades on defence, WR1 stopper Darius Slay via trade (Lions) and disruptive big Javon Hargrave (Steelers), who’s going to cause all kinds of havoc alongside Fletcher Cox up front.
Green Bay Packers & New Orleans Saints
In a world of so many unknowns, doing less could be more if the coronavirus further shortens pre-season preparations, after the CBA already cut into it.
Continuity will be king in this COVID-19 world we live in.
Another savvy set of moves from GM Brian Gutekunst free’d up room in Green Bay’s cap, to offset the departure of right tackle Bryan Bulaga (Chargers), leaving the Cheeseheads, who have to soon pay Kenny Clark, in a prime spot to fill their only remaining holes in April’s Draft – receiver and inside linebacker – and go about progressing past the NFC Championship game this post-season.
And a fellow heavy-hitting contender, New Orleans, played it smart bringing back Drew Brees and finding him an extra weapon, Emmanuel Sanders (49ers), who’s aging like wine. Raise a glass to the Saints’ Super Bowl aspirations, yet again.
And how about a win for everyone – we get to see Brady v Brees twice next season.
This insulated, laughing stock club has, shocklingly, gone really hard in the last week, adding a whole host of names to their bad defence. And while none of the new contracts are actual wins, at least this organisation has realised you don’t have to just build your roster through the Draft.
You’re a couple of decades late to the party, but good for you, Bengals.
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New England Patriots
Showing little fight to ensure Tom Brady retired a Pat, it was not only a PR disaster for this heavyweight franchise, but a heartbreaking time for those blessed enough to call themselves New England fans. We can never assume Bill Belichick isn’t cooking something up, but with almost no room in the cap and basically half the defensive front seven out the door – Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy and Danny Shelton – the AFC East is back up for grabs, after a long two decades for the likes of the Jets, Bills and Dolphins.
Fans will be salivating over the flashy, big names they acquired, through both trade and free agency, but they’ve overpaid for a big three – Hayden Hurst, Todd Gurley and Dante Fowler – where name value either doesn’t or no longer matches production.
The best move this franchise could make is stopping the Bill O’Brien dictatorship. Houston doesn’t have a GM and coach O’Brien has left the Texans in a massive hole through insane trades in the last year, including DeAndre Hopkins to the Cardinals and giving up a war chest for left tackle Laremy Tunsil on the eve of last season. Houston, please: STOP Bill. Stop him. Before he has a dispute with DeShaun Watson as well.
Cut by the Panthers and now in a team-less predicament, where lockdown laws leave the former MVP unable to prove his fitness to any prospective destinations, following two seasons of injury turmoil – a torn rotator cuff and then a Lisfranc foot fracture early last season.
Minnesota Vikings & LA Rams
These teams were ‘all in’ the last few seasons and it’s now caught up to them, both decimated by the salary cap squeeze. The Vikings defence will look far less ferocious next season, while for the Rams, impressive linebacker Corey Littleton got paid by the Raiders.
It won’t be a shock to see either of these recent contenders trailing their respective divisions next year.
Jerry Jones’ men were in the ‘losers’ column even before free agency heated up. Giving Ezekiel Elliot stud money last season gave the roster little room to move that’s now seen star corner Byron Jones move to Miami. After signing pass-catcher Amari Cooper to a five-year $100M contract, a lot of money will be tied up in three offensive players, the third being tagged QB Dak Prescott, a headache that will continue to hang over Dallas. The Cowboys couldn’t do much to stop trusty centre Travis Frederick from retiring, but it’s a cruel blow. Jerry has work to do.