The new league year is still less than two weeks old, but already the entire NFL landscape has changed quite a bit thanks in large part to free agency and an uncharacteristically active trade market. Couple that with a plethora of new head coaches, new general managers and shifts in front office structure, and there’s been a substantial amount of shakeup around the NFL.
But which teams and players have benefited most from all these changes? Who has gotten better? Who has gotten worse?
Here’s a look at the 10 best moves of the 2018 NFL offseason to date.
10. Eagles acquire Michael Bennett
The Philadelphia Eagles won their first Super Bowl title on the shoulders of their dominant defense, which was highlighted by one of the better and more versatile defensive lines in football. So, what did the Eagles do as they begin their path to a repeat? They further bolstered their defensive line with the addition of Michael Bennett, who had been traded by the Seattle Seahawks as part of their organizational purge.
To land Bennett and a seventh-round pick, the Eagles sent back a fifth-round selection in the 2018 draft and wide receiver Marcus Johnson, who signed with Philadelphia as an undrafted rookie out of Texas in 2016 and was rarely used.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, Bennett came with some unexpected baggage. He recently had a warrant issued for his arrest as part of an ongoing assault investigation. Bennett allegedly injured a 66-year-old paraplegic woman during Super Bowl LI, which led to an indictment by a Texas Grand Jury.
The charge carries a potential for 10 years in prison, but so long as Bennett gets his life in order and pays the proper restitution, it should still result in a good acquisition for the Eagles.
9. Texans sign safety Tyrann Mathieu
When the Arizona Cardinals decided to part ways with veteran Tyrann Mathieu, he immediately became the premier safety available on the free agent market. And it didn’t take very long for a plethora of teams to come calling. Mathieu made it immediately clear that money wouldn’t determine where he eventually signed, acknowledging that he needed 2018 to showcase his talents and prove he’s still the same dominant player he once was.
“This is my test. Not too many people have my story,” Mathieu told Bleacher Report. “And this is my story: A guy goes from unknown to a Heisman Trophy finalist. He gets kicked out of school. He absolutely rebounds himself. He becomes a millionaire. He’s taking care of his family. And then he’s getting injured.
“How can he get back to the top of that mountain? People never do it. You’ve seen guys go, and then drop off. They never returned. . . I will, though.”
8. Browns trade for quality quarterback, receiver tandem
The Cleveland Browns were extremely active to start the offseason and have not slowed down to date. And while they traded away some quality talent, they also brought some back in.
Whether or not the Browns intend to take a quarterback No. 1 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, they needed a starter for the upcoming season and were able to land by way of the Buffalo Bills, who accepted a third-round pick (No. 65 overall) in exchange for Tyrod Taylor.
It was a lot of wheeling and dealing for the Browns — just a small amount of the work they did through trade — but it gave them a quality quarterback-wide receiver combination for the 2018 season, and kept them in position to take a quarterback No. 1 overall should they so desire.
7. Patriots trade for DT Danny Shelton, CB Jason McCourty
The New England Patriots had an obvious problem on the defensive side of the ball in 2017, and Matt Patricia leaving to coach the Detroit Lions certainly added to lingering concerns as the new league year opened. But Bill Belichick and the Patriots promptly shored up some weaker areas by acquiring quality talent by whatever means necessary.
In two separate trades with the Cleveland Browns, the Patriots were able to land defensive tackle Danny Shelton and cornerback Jason McCourty, who will be paired with his twin brother, Devin.
What’s significant about these trades for the Patriots isn’t just that they were relatively inexpensive, but that they bolster their defensive line and secondary substantially. Shelton finished the 2017 with a Pro Football Focus grade of 81.5, while McCourty finished 2017 with a grade of 83.9.
Adding quality, consistent and serviceable talent is what the Patriots do in the offseason. Getting the most they can out of those players is what they do during the season. So love them or hate them, New England came out on top with both of these trades.
6. Raiders hire Jon Gruden as head coach
There were quite a few coaching hires in the NFL this offseason, including Steve Wilks by the Arizona Cardinals and Matt Patricia by the Detroit Lions. But perhaps none was immediately as impactful or stirring as the return of Jon Gruden to the Oakland Raiders.
Gruden’s return revitalized an Oakland fan base starved for success, and it seemed to have a similar impact on the players. And while there’s really no telling how Gruden’s second stint in Oakland will ultimately play out, it has the potential to boom just as much as it has the potential to bust.
It has, after all, been 10 long years since Gruden last graced an NFL sideline and 17 years since he was last part of the Raiders’ organization. But while serving as an ESPN broadcaster, he remained very close to the game. And there’s no denying the value Gruden was able to gain through his knowledge of football’s evolution even though he fully intends to go “old school” in his second stint with the franchise.
5. Jaguars swoop in, sign Andrew Norwell
When the new league year arrived on March 14, most NFL experts firmly believed that All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell would sign with the New York Giants. Some even went as far as to “guarantee” the signing, saying it was a mere formality.
Tom Coughlin, who spent over a decade coaching the Giants, had different ideas. And in a wildly unexpected twist, he and the Jaguars swooped in and pulled the rug out from not just the Giants, but a handful of other teams who were chasing Norwell.
Jacksonville landed Norwell on a five-year, $66.5 million deal, making him the highest-paid guard in the NFL. And in the end, it will be money well spent as the Jaguars look to continue their ascension and now feature an interior anchor for years to come.
4. Giants fill two major holes with Nate Solder, Alec Ogletree
The New York Giants had more than a few needs coming off of a 3-13 season in 2017, which included the termination of head coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese.
Under new general manager Dave Gettleman and head coach Pat Shurmur, the Giants entered the offseason with a renewed focus on repairing their damaged offensive line and shockingly thin linebacker corps. It didn’t take very long for them to address both areas.
They were able to acquire veteran linebacker Alec Ogletree from the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for two late-round draft picks, and later added left tackle Nate Solder on a four-year, $62 million deal that made him the highest paid offensive lineman in the NFL.
Although the collective cost for the two players seems extensive on the surface, Gettleman & Co. did what they had to do in order to shore up two extremely weak areas. It won’t fix all of the team’s problems, but it will go a long way in helping to rebound after a franchise-worst season.
3. Jets move up to No. 3 pick in draft
The New York Jets, like many other teams, apparently have their sights set on a franchise quarterback entering the 2018 NFL Draft. Of course, with the No. 6 overall pick, they were on the outside looking in.
In an effort to move up, Gang Green paid a king’s ransom, sending the No. 6 overall pick and three second-round picks to the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for the No. 3 overall pick.
The price to move up three spots was remarkably steep, but in a quarterback-rich draft, the Jets knew they’d put themselves in a position to snag one of the top three by moving up. Of course, the downside is that they weren’t able to get the No. 1 or 2 pick away the Browns and Giants, so they’ll ultimately have to pick up leftovers — assuming both Cleveland and New York select a quarterback with their picks.
The good news is that even in such a scenario, the Jets walk away with one of Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen or Josh Allen, and all three appear worthy of such a gamble.
2. Bills swap their way to a great position
The Buffalo Bills aren’t hiding the fact that they’re looking for a franchise quarterback in the 2018 NFL Draft. The only problem entering the offseason was that they weren’t in a great position to land one.
Although they may still be on the outside looking in, a series of very clever March trades have put them in remarkable position to ultimately finish the quest they embarked on the very moment the 2017 season ended.
First, the Bills unloaded quarterback Tyrod Taylor, trading him to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for the No. 65 overall pick. Then, just days later, they traded left tackle Cordy Glenn to the Cincinnati Bengals and swapped first-round picks, moving from No. 25 overall to No. 12 overall.
While that’s not high enough to walk away with one of the draft’s top quarterback prospects, the trades have helped stockpile assets for the Bills, who are now expected to attempt a move up into the top five. And with No. 12 and No. 22 picks in Round 1, as well as picks No. 53 and No. 56 in Round 2, the ammo needed is most certainly there.
It has been an aggressive strategy for the Bills, but their wheeling and dealing has put them in good position to reach their ultimate goal.
1. Vikings make a big splash, sign Kirk Cousins
Entering the offseason, the prized free agent was always expected to be quarterback Kirk Cousins. And even after Case Keenum put up wildly unexpected numbers for Minnesota in 2018, the Vikings intended on entering the Cousins sweepstakes.
With the Jets, Broncos, Browns and others also quarterback-hungry entering free agency, the race was destined to be a tight and expensive one. But in the end, it was the Vikings who came up big, signing Cousins to a three-year, $84 million deal that is fully guaranteed.
Expensive? Without a doubt, but the addition of Cousins immediately turns the Vikings into an even stronger Super Bowl contender and shores up the quarterback position for at least three seasons.
“I would be here a long time if I were to read off the grocery list of reasons why this is the right fit,” Cousins said during his introductory press conference. “But for the sake of time, winning is what I said it would be all about, and it’s true. I came here for the chance to win. Probably the best chance. That is all that matters in this business.”
It’s a match made in heaven for both Cousins and the Vikings because they legitimately provide each other the best chance to win.
Article first appeared on Yardbarker.Com