We don’t know how or even if the headline-generating transactions of the NFL offseason will impact what actually happens on the field in 2019. But it’s still useful to look back at the signings, trades and draft picks and assess which teams did the best for themselves with this window of roster-building. Scoff at the idea of winning the offseason all you’d like, but it’s hard for teams to improve meaningfully from one season to the next without adding players in the interim.
Which teams have made the most of the past few months? Looking at both veteran acquisitions and draft classes, I’ve compiled the below list of the five NFL teams that had the best offseasons.
1) Cleveland Browns
New head coach Freddie Kitchens has tried to put a lid on excessively optimistic public predictions of success made by his players, but who can blame the Browns for being excited? This is the best-looking Cleveland roster since the team returned to action in 1999. Odell Beckham, the crown jewel of the Browns‘ offseason acquisition binge, brings a massive big-play element to a passing attack that already featured the talented Jarvis Landry and emerging youngster Antonio Callaway. When Kareem Hunt gets on the field following his eight-game suspension for violating the NFL personal-conduct policy, he’ll only help a running back group that features productive players Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson. Beckham’s fellow trade piece, Olivier Vernon, projects as a strong complementary edge rusher to Myles Garrett, while signee Sheldon Richardson should help the interior pass rush. Cleveland is hoping veteran safety Morgan Burnett will rebound from a disappointing season in Pittsburgh well enough to fill the shoes of Jabrill Peppers, who was shipped to the Giants as part of the Beckham-Vernon swap. The Browns didn’t have a first-round pick as a result of that trade, but cornerback Greedy Williams is a skilled pass defender, and his selection in the second round (drafted No. 46 overall) was an excellent pick.
Kitchens is a great hire. He has an infectious personality. Between quarterback Baker Mayfield‘s star turn as a rookie last season and the suddenly loaded lineup, expectations are higher in Cleveland than they’ve been since Bernie Kosar’s heyday. The challenge for Kitchens is to keep this group from falling into the same trap as the “Dream Team” Eagles, who rode a similar tidal wave of hype into the 2011 season before stumbling to an 8-8 record.
2) Oakland Raiders
The Raiders have improved greatly this offseason. After setting the bar extremely low on defense in 2018, Oakland gave that unit a serious boost, drafting pass rusher Clelin Ferrell (drafted No. 4 overall), safety Johnathan Abram (No. 27) and cornerback Trayvon Mullen (No. 40) and signing safety Lamarcus Joyner and cornerback Nevin Lawson. The front seven is still a bit shaky, but veteran linebackers Brandon Marshall and Vontaze Burfict should help in that area.
On offense, the trade for seven-time Pro Bowler Antonio Brown has boom or bust written all over it. But the risk is well worth it, considering the relatively meager cost (the Steelers received a third- and fifth-round pick) and Brown’s extremely prodigious track record. Veteran signee Tyrell Williams, meanwhile, should be a nice deep-threat complement to Brown — he’s a real sleeper. It’s fair to question the wisdom of paying Trent Brown a king’s ransom and then sticking him at right tackle after he played so well on the left side in New England. But it appears the team is reticent to move 2018 first-round pick Kolton Miller out of position. First-round pick Josh Jacobs (drafted No. 24 overall) should be able to contribute at running back, especially with veteran signee Isaiah Crowell going down with an Achilles injury. This is shaping up to be an important season for quarterback Derek Carr. But head coach Jon Gruden has shown the ability to make something great out of inherited QBs, and now he and Carr both have more pieces to work with than they did a year ago.
3) Buffalo Bills
The 2018 Bills carried more than $50 million in dead money in anticipation of retooling the roster this offseason, and the team followed through on its plans. Signees Mitch Morse, Spencer Long and Ty Nsekhe and rookie Cody Ford (drafted No. 38 overall) will upgrade the offensive line, while veterans Cole Beasley, John Brown and Andre Roberts will do the same for the pass-catching corps. The incredible Frank Gore and rookie Devin Singletary (No. 74), meanwhile, were brought in to help bolster the LeSean McCoy-led ground attack. Those additions were all designed to give quarterback Josh Allen a better chance of growing in his second NFL season.
On defense, the first-round selection of Ed Oliver (No. 9) should help make up for the retirement of six-time Pro Bowler Kyle Williams. Yes, the Bills recorded their 11th losing season in the last 15 seasons, but this team was surprisingly feisty at times in ’18, upsetting the Vikings in Week 3 and finishing with the second-stingiest defense in terms of yards allowed. All of Buffalo’s moves, combined with rebuilding projects going on with the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets, mean anything less than a playoff appearance will count as a disappointment.
4) Detroit Lions
The Lions‘ most expensive offseason acquisition thus far — signing former Patriot Trey Flowers — headlined a series of moves that should lead to improvement in Year 2 of the Matt Patricia-Bob Quinn pairing. Flowers has the kind of multiple-position flexibility that Patricia has been seeking on the defensive line. The upgrades to that side of the ball don’t end there; we can also expect top-notch slot corner Justin Coleman and rookie linebacker Jahlani Tavai (drafted No. 43 overall) to make an impact.
Offensively, new coordinator Darrell Bevell should bring an increased emphasis on the running game, which is where the value of rookie tight end T.J. Hockenson (drafted No. 8 overall) comes into play. As I mentioned in my Hot 150 ranking, Hockenson — who I listed as the sixth best prospect in the draft — will help the ground attack with his blocking ability, in addition to being a potent receiving threat. Veteran signee Danny Amendola will provide Matthew Stafford with a quality slot receiver, but even beyond that, he will help Patricia get his message across in the locker room better than anyone in 2018. He joins Coleman and Flowers as part of the latest wave of Patriot-connected players brought in by Patricia and Quinn, who both cut their teeth in New England.
5) Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles weren’t all that far last season from making a second straight Super Bowl appearance, despite losing quarterback Carson Wentz to injury for the second year in a row. Facing a tight cap situation, general manager Howie Roseman pulled off the kind of miracle-working, wheeling-and-dealing offseason that has become his trademark. In addition to reportedly restructuring the contracts of veterans like Lane Johnson and Jason Peters, Roseman played his cards right with defensive tackle Tim Jernigan, declining his option, using a portion of the freed-up cap space to make moves like adding Malik Jackson, then bringing Jernigan back at a reduced rate. Philadelphia also re-signed Brandon Graham before the start of free agency and then brought Vinny Curry back into the fold after Curry’s season-long sojourn in Tampa. The continued growth of Derek Barnett should help mitigate the loss of Michael Bennett, who was traded to New England.
This team is now loaded at receiver, with returning former Eagle DeSean Jackson — who has more touchdowns of 60-plus yards to his name than anyone else in NFL history — and second-round pick J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (No. 57) joining a group led by Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor. The running back room was significantly upgraded by the trade for former Bear Jordan Howard and the Round 2 selection of Penn State’s Miles Sanders (No. 53). Finally, Roseman snagged his left tackle of the future when he jumped ahead of Houston in the first round of the draft for Andre Dillard (No. 22). The key now is for Wentz to return to his pre-injury form.
Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.