The busiest week of the NFL offseason is winding down, with an uncomfortable reality looming around the corner: There's going to be a long wait to see these reconfigured squads play actual football again.
It's hard to fully believe coach Hue Jackson when he says that there will be "no competition" at quarterback this offseason because trade acquisitionTyrod Taylor is the starter. And it doesn't particularly matter. The Browns already have a quarterback with better big-play ability than any that Jackson has coached in his disastrous two years with the team. The expected addition of a high-octane rookie quarterback, likely with the No. 1 pick, will only make the Browns even more watchable in 2018.
In wideout Jarvis Landry, the Brownstraded for the surest pair of hands in football, a slot receiver who can beat defenders before and after the catch with short-area quickness. Free-agent running back Carlos Hyde is a boom-or-bust pickup who can often be more entertaining than effective, like a poor man's LeSean McCoy. I'll take that over watching another 3-yard gain from Isaiah Crowell, who left to sign with the Jets. Jackson should also benefit from having Josh Gordon -- who returned to the field last December after losing the previous three years to a series of suspensions -- in a full offseason of practices.
The Browns don't necessarily look like anything more than the type of 5-11 outfit that drove Cleveland fans plenty crazy throughout most of the last two decades, but the excitement here is partly due to how unfinished this team remains. With two picks in the top four of the draft and four picks in the top 35, the Browns' free-agency-season splurge -- they also added T.J. Carrie, Darren Fells, Chris Hubbard, Chris Smith, Terrance Mitchell and Donald Stephenson -- will be supplemented by top-shelf rookie talent. This team should look barely recognizable by the time Week 1 arrives, which is the only sensible approach coming off a winless season.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams upgrading their excellent secondary is one of the big upsets of this offseason. General manager Les Snead knew last month that he had three starters headed to free agency (safety Lamarcus Joyner, cornerback Trumaine Johnson and nickel back Nickell Robey-Coleman) and another one (Kayvon Webster) recovering from an Achilles tear. The Rams' relative lack of salary-cap space made it appear that defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' group would inevitably take a step back.
Instead, Snead found a way to improve the No. 1 corner spot, going from Johnson to former Chief Marcus Peters, while saving a lot of money in the process. Trading forAqib Talib, who played his best career ball under Phillips in Denver, shored up the other starting spot, while Snead was able to retain Joyner with the franchise tag and keep Robey-Coleman on a bargain contract.
All three Rams cornerbacks ranked in the top 25 of Pro Football Focus' grades in 2017. Both safeties, including 2017 rookie John Johnson, ranked in the top 10 at their position. Talib and Peters bring personality and competitiveness to a defense built for thievery. A catchy nickname is the only remaining piece to the puzzle for what should be the best secondary in football.
New coach Matt Nagy's expected aggressive offensive philosophy was quickly matched in free agency by GM Ryan Pace's fervor in acquiring Nagy some toys. It's incredibly rare to see a receiver with a true No. 1 skill set become available in free agency, so Pace accepted some risk in Allen Robinson, who is coming off a torn ACL. Although, in 2018, it's not that huge a risk, anyhow, with most young players returning from ACL surgery nearly good as new.
In tight end Trey Burton and wide receiver Taylor Gabriel, the Bearspaid a lot of moneyfor role players. But Pace was determined to build Nagy's offense from scratch quickly in the same manner that Snead did for Rams coach Sean McVay and quarterback Jared Goff last year. Now second-year pro Mitchell Trubisky will have an array of options, with Nagy able to dictate matchup advantages on the perimeter. The Bears needed a group of weapons, not just a signing or two. With running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen already in place, they at least have a starting five.
Pace is not done yet, as the team must continue to fill out its wide receiver depth. But the Bears' moves on defense (re-signing cornerback Prince Amukamara and picking up linebacker Aaron Lynch, a former acolyte of coordinator Vic Fangio) bodes well for that side of the ball remaining steady. If the John Fox Bears were in the dark ages in terms of watchability, Nagy should bring them into the light, safe for national television again.
Like Nagy in Chicago, new Titans coach Mike Vrabel was bound to feel like a jolt of energy compared to his sleepy coaching predecessor. The acquisition of cornerback Malcolm Butler will further invigorate a defense that was too often lifeless a season ago. Butler plays with a rare manic energy, not so different from his new/old teammate Logan Ryan, a fellow former Patriot.
The offensive philosophy of coordinator Matt LaFleur, who comes from the Kyle Shanahan/Sean McVay coaching tree, should only help open up this offense. In former Patriots running back Dion Lewis, the Titansgot the perfect complement to bruising runner Derrick Henry. Both Lewis and Henry will be better players with lesser workloads.
My inclusion of the Titans here is partly due to the players that are no longer with the team. From Matt Cassel and Eric Decker to Harry Douglas, DeMarco Murray and Da'Norris Searcy, the Titans unloaded members of a roster that seemed destined for the soft middle of NFL standings. Butler, Lewis and a new approach on offense should give the Titans a higher ceiling -- and provide for a smoother viewing experience on Sundays.