COVID-19 might have humanity in hiding, but the Power Rankings cower from nothing and no one.
We're back for the first time in seven weeks, checking in on teams after the first wave of free agency. We'll run this back again after the draft. Need more of an NFL fix during these uncertain times? Check out the Around The NFL Podcast, hosted by yours truly, which is coming at you five days a week during this profoundly weird time in human history.
OK, back to my cave. Try not to get too worked up about where your team sits on March 24. As recent world events have made abundantly clear, life can change in a hurry.
Be safe and stay healthy, friends.
The defending champions were quiet in the first wave of free agency. Which is ... fine. Kansas City slapped the franchise tag on Chris Jones when it couldn't get a long-term deal done with the standout defensive lineman. A notable defender was lost when Kendall Fuller returned to the Redskins. On the other side of the ball, receiver Sammy Watkins is still here. The veteran wideout was thought to be a potential cap casualty, but he remains a Chiefs employee as of this writing. We'll see if it stays that way.
Good for general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan for resisting temptation. Tom Brady has long been connected to the team he rooted for as a boy, and NFL circumstances aligned to the degree that Brady in a Niners uniform became a very real possibility. But sticking with Jimmy Garoppolo is the smart long-term move; it is this humble Power Ranker's opinion that Jimmy G gets entirely too much guff from the Football Cognoscenti. Trading away the excellent DeForest Buckner unquestionably stings, but it puts the defending NFC champions in position to enter next month's draft with a pair of first-round picks. Not a bad place to be.
The Ravens keep getting better. The acquisition of Calais Campbell (at the piddly cost of a fifth-round pick!) could be a huge lift. Michael Brockers, a great interior presence, is another solid addition to the defensive front. (UPDATE: Brockers' deal with the Ravens fell through, and NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reports that the defensive tackle will be re-signing with the Rams.) We're still waiting to see what happens with standout edge rusher Matt Judon, who received the franchise tag but could still be traded. On the draft front, GM Eric DeCosta was able to add another second-round pick to his arsenal by dealing away tight end Hayden Hurst to the Falcons. Hurst, 26, has Pro Bowl potential, but the Ravens were smart to trade from a position of depth.
As the Patriots stumbled through the end of the Tom Brady era, the Saints took a different route and retained their legendary quarterback on a sensible two-year deal. Drew Brees is back, and he'll be paired -- in some capacity -- with Taysom Hill, who isn't going anywhere after being slapped with a first-round tender as a restricted free agent. Happy trails to Teddy Bridgewater, who finally gets another starting shot with the Panthers. The Saints kicked off the second wave of free agency with a great move, bringing in Emmanuel Sanders to beef up a wide receiver group that was thin outside of Michael Thomas. Sanders could post another 1,000-yard season in this offense.
Packers fans had to wince when they saw superstar wideout
DeAndre Hopkins get moved to the
less than a first-round pick. There had long been rumblings about Hopkins and Bill O'Brien being in a not-so-great place prior to the trade. Did
Packers GM Brian Gutekunst ever pick up the phone? Consider this yet another example of why we need a GM App that connects all these guys. Just imagine Hopkins and
Davante Adams running routes for
Aaron Rodgers! It ain't happening, and it looks like the necessary upgrades at the skill positions will have to wait for the draft. Unsolicited advice for Gutie: Call the
Bengals and kick the tires on
With a new deal for Ryan Tannehill and the franchise tag for Derrick Henry, the Titans will enter the 2020 campaign with the two players who guided them to the brink of an AFC title, including a playoff conquest in Foxborough in January. (Quick aside: Congrats to free agent Logan Ryan, who can always say he intercepted Tom Brady's final pass as a Patriot and took it to the end zone.) Not all the news was good in the first wave of free agency, though: Right tackle Jack Conklin, a former top-10 pick who routinely blew open running lanes for Henry, is now in Cleveland on a rich free-agent deal. Coming off a monster 2019 workload and absent a key run blocker, it's fair to wonder if a dip in production is coming for Henry.
In one of the surprise twists of free agency, Jadeveon Clowney remains on the open market at publishing. This could bode well for the Seahawks, who have a standing offer that might end up being the best one Clowney receives. Teams that are run well set a value on a player and stick to it, resisting the temptation to overpay and limit their options down the road. We'll see if GM John Schneider is rewarded for his prudence.
Last month, we wrote in this space that finding a premium wide receiver to line up across from John Brown should be the No. 1 priority of GM Brandon Beane. Clearly, Beane is a Power Rankings reader. Last week, the Bills sent four draft picks (including their 2020 first-rounder) to the Vikings to land Pro Bowl wideout Stefon Diggs and a seventh-rounder. Diggs, Brown and Cole Beasley now form an impressive Big 3 that should allow Josh Allen plenty of opportunity to take the next step as a passer. Buffalo also acted aggressively on defense by adding Mario Addison, Quinton Jefferson, Vernon Butler and Josh Norman. With Tom Brady finally out of the division, the Buffalo Bills are in line to enter 2020 as the AFC East favorites. It's been decades since you could say that.
GM Howie Roseman made a big splash with his trade for cornerback Darius Slay, a proven difference-maker who addresses a huge area of need in the Eagles' secondary and helps mitigate the loss of Malcolm Jenkins, who signed with the Saints. Roseman used free agency to land defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, a monster on the interior and a fine complement to Fletcher Cox and Malik Jackson. The defense feels like it's in a better place, but what about the other side of the ball? Carson Wentz needs some explosive playmakers he can count on. Receiver Robby Anderson is still out there and makes sense. Roseman could also choose the draft to address a glaring need at that position.
All I want to do is talk about Ben Roethlisberger's beard. It's magnificent and mysterious and hideous and bizarre and comforting ... all at the same time. It looks like Big Ben has been in quarantine since last March. The exit of Javon Hargrave to the Eagles hurts, but the Steelers acted quickly to address the loss by trading with the Ravens(!) for defensive lineman Chris Wormley. On offense, Roethlisberger gets a new red-zone weapon in tight end Eric Ebron, who is one season removed from a 13-touchdown campaign with Andrew Luck and the Colts. Ebron is a flawed player, but the former first-round pick has a chance to put up numbers in Pittsburgh's two tight end offense.
The Cowboys made the move they felt they had to, biting down hard and making Amari Cooper one of the highest-paid wide receivers in football. Cooper, Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott might comprise the best set of "triplets" in the NFL, but Dallas will have a lot of money invested in just three players (assuming the franchise-tagged Dak eventually gets that long-term deal). To make this work, Dallas must be smart and effective in the second and third wave of free agency, then the draft. Former All-Pro Gerald McCoy was a solid signing on the interior defensive line, but players out the door include cornerback Byron Jones, pass rusher Robert Quinn, receiver Randall Cobb, tight end Jason Witten and defensive tackle Maliek Collins. Oh, and Pro Bowl center Travis Frederick just retired. Jerrah and Co. have work to do.
Tom Brady is the quarterback of the
Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It's the biggest free-agent move in the history of the franchise, and it instantly makes the Bucs one of the most compelling teams in the NFL. It was the rare perfect move in free agency: Brady gets
a two-year deal for not obscene money (two years and $50 million, with $9 million in incentives) to bring his unmatched experience and leadership to town. It also frees the Bucs from the purgatory that comes with
Jameis Winston as your starting quarterback. Tampa Bay tried to make it work with the former No. 1 overall pick, but it just never happened. Brady will enter Week 1 at 43 years old, but he's never been this motivated, and he'll have
star players to throw the ball to. This should be fun.
Peter King wrote this week that Tom Brady had interest in signing with the Colts, so consider it notable that Indy never made a contract offer to the G.O.A.T. The team instead invested its resources in Philip Rivers, giving the longtime Chargers star a one-year, $25 million deal that instantly upgrades the quarterback position while giving Frank Reich and Chris Ballard wiggle room to plan for the future at the position. Brian Hoyer signed with New England over the weekend after being released by the Colts, an indication that Jacoby Brissett will slide back into his more natural position as a No. 2 man. The Colts have as good a chance as anyone to claim the AFC South in 2020.
Trading a 26-year-old star receiver coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons is never easy, but the Vikings did what they had to do with Stefon Diggs. It seemed like Diggs was never going to be happy in Minnesota, and the decision to extend quarterback Kirk Cousins essentially sealed Diggs' fate in purple. So they flipped the playmaker to the Bills for four draft picks, including a first-rounder. That's more than acceptable compensation for an excellent wideout who's still probably a pace or two behind the true elites at his position. The win-now Vikings have 12 draft picks next month, including two in the first round at Nos. 22 and 25 overall. A Diggs replacement and a cornerback (or three) are on the menu.
It's a trade that could go down as one of the greatest heists ever:
DeAndre Hopkins and a fourth-round pick to the
David Johnson, a second-rounder and a fourth-rounder. Hopkins, arguably the best wideout in the NFL, was sent packing for 50 cents on the dollar in a seismic trade that puts coach/GM Bill O'Brien directly under the spotlight (and perhaps on the hot seat) like never before. Hopkins
used social media to try to downplay reports of a fractured relationship with his head coach, and O'Brien can present the trade to his boss as a move that provides future cap relief, imports a quality player in Johnson and delivers welcome draft capital. But c'mon. On paper, the
Texans got a lot worse. You can only wonder what
Deshaun Watson is thinking, especially now that
he's in Cryptic Tweet Mode.
It's almost impossible to imagine a scenario in which Tom Brady is not the quarterback of the New England Patriots. And yet, here ... we ... are. The G.O.A.T. now grazes in Tampa, and the Patriots didn't make a move to add a quarterback to their roster until this past weekend, when they welcomed Brian Hoyer back for a third stint with the team. Is it possible Bill Belichick could enter camp with a quarterback room headlined by Jarrett Stidham, a 2019 fourth-round pick with four career pass attempts, and Hoyer, a career backup entering his age-35 season? Seems unlikely, but New England so far has passed on the other notable QBs on the open market. The Brady-Belichick divorce changes everything: at 1 Patriot Place, in the AFC East and across the entire NFL.
Change happens fast in the NFL: The Rams have quickly gone from an organization on the rise to a team in transition. Running back Todd Gurley, the former face of the franchise and the man who once seemed destined to open up Sofi Stadium as the building's biggest star, was released and quickly signed by the Falcons. Nearly half the team's starting defense from 2019 must be replaced. Teams are calling about receiver Brandin Cooks. There are still building block pieces in place ( Jared Goff, Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey form a damn solid foundation), but the Super Bowl window has closed for the time being. Can Sean McVay and Les Snead re-open it?
Solid work by the Falcons in the first week of the league year. The team imported two Rams stars in running back Todd Gurley and pass rusher Dante Fowler Jr., then replaced tight end Austin Hooper (off to Cleveland on a big-money deal) by trading for former Ravens first-round pick Hayden Hurst, a young player with legit upside. Fowler is an upgrade over Vic Beasley, who signed with the Titans, but it's Gurley who exists as the team's great curiosity. The chronic knee issue can't be ignored, but is it possible the Rams' regression along their offensive line was overlooked as an explanation for Gurley's pedestrian play in 2019? We'll find out in September. (Hopefully.)
The Browns continue to do well this time of year. Cleveland acted fast as the negotiation window opened, landing tight end Austin Hooper and right tackle Jack Conklin, the two best players on the market at their respective positions. The Conklin move was especially important, as the Browns must do everything in their power to clean up the pocket for Baker Mayfield in his pivotal third season. If Cleveland can land a legit left tackle with the 10th overall pick, it will have turned a team weakness into a strength. One interesting note: Case Keenum got $10 million in guaranteed money to be Mayfield's backup. That's a lot. Hmmmm ...
The Jets have drafted as poorly as anyone in the league over the last decade, and too often, the team has tried to make up for that shortcoming with high-profile free-agent signings that rarely work out. GM Joe Douglas was brought in to change how the team does business, and we've seen that through the first wave of free agency. Douglas passed on making a huge splash in favor of a quiet rebuild of the offensive line. The Jets added three new starters (LT George Fant, C Connor McGovern, OG Greg Van Roten) on sensible deals, and could add a fourth new starter with the No. 11 pick in the draft. Wide receiver Robby Anderson, meanwhile, remains on the open market. Could Anderson end up back with the Jets on a prove-it deal? It would be a best-case scenario for New York.
Everyone kept expecting Jon Gruden to jump into the Tom Brady sweepstakes, but it never happened. Perhaps it's time to stop assuming Gruden doesn't want Derek Carr as his guy. Speaking of Carr, this all worked out superbly for the incumbent starter. He avoids the Brady Bomb and draws middling in-house competition in the newly signed Marcus Mariota, who lost his starting job to Ryan Tannehill in Nashville. On defense, the Raiders got better with the additions of Nick Kwiatkoski, Maliek Collins, Eli Apple and Cory Littleton. (UPDATE: After the publishing of this piece, Eli Apple's deal with the Raiders fell through.) I'm less convinced the additions of Nelson Agholor and Jason Witten make Las Vegas better on offense.
The Bears did what everyone expected, bringing in a veteran name brand to compete with Mitch Trubisky. That veteran is Nick Foles, the former Super Bowl MVP who endured a nightmarish (but very lucrative) one-season stint with the Jaguars. Trubisky will likely enter training camp as the presumed starter, but holding off Foles will be much more difficult than fending off Chase Daniel was a year ago. Put it this way: There's a very good chance Foles ends up starting more games next year than the former first-round pick hypothetically ahead of him on the depth chart. The Robert Quinn signing was ... fine. The move to bring in 33-year-old Jimmy Graham, who did next to nothing with Aaron Rodgers throwing him spirals, makes you wonder if GM Ryan Pace will ever figure out the tight end position.
If the Cardinals weren't practicing social distancing, surely there would have been a party in Glendale after GM Steve Keim landed wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. It was the rare perfect trade, a move that provided second-year QB Kyle Murray a legit No. 1 wide receiver without mortgaging the future by surrendering premium draft picks. Throw in the fact that Arizona managed to unload the redundant David Johnson and his bloated contract, and this could go down as the greatest trade heist since Mike Ditka gave up his entire draft class for Ricky Williams. (That really happened, kids.) The Cardinals improved their defense, as well, with the additions of linebacker Devon Kennard and defensive tackle Jordan Phillips. The Cardinals could be a player in the NFC West, like, right now.
Philip Rivers and
Melvin Gordon are both out the door, signaling the start of a new era for the
Chargers as they move into a new stadium. The Bolts expressed interest in
Tom Brady, but were
betrayed by geography, as Brady chose to stay closer to his son in New York by signing with the Bucs. So where does that leave them at quarterback?
Tyrod Taylor is currently in line as the No. 1, but there are more enticing options, both in free agency and the draft, where L.A. is
slated to pick sixth overall. The additions of
Bryan Bulaga and
Trai Turner will fortify the offensive line for whomever ends up taking the snaps, while the acquisition of
Chris Harris Jr. makes the
Chargers' secondary as good as any in the AFC.
The Broncos were busy in the first week of the league year, landing defensive lineman Jurrell Casey in a trade, upgrading the offensive line with Graham Glasgow and adding an interesting option to the backfield in Melvin Gordon. John Elway slapped the franchise tag on star safety Justin Simmons, keeping some continuity in a secondary that saw Chris Harris Jr. leave for the Chargers on a new deal. Joe Flacco was sent packing, as expected. Will Elway bring in another veteran QB to serve as insurance behind unproven second-year passer Drew Lock? Cam Newton, Andy Dalton and Jameis Winston could all improve a suspect QB room.
You knew a spending spree was coming in Miami, and that's exactly what happened. The Dolphins, armed with more cap space than any team in the league, handed out a bunch of big money contracts in the first week of the league year to lock up cornerback Byron Jones, linebacker Kyle Van Noy, defensive end Shaq Lawson and offensive tackle Ereck Flowers on deals that all equaled at least three years and $30 million. Jones is now the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL. Jordan Howard was brought aboard to help lift the NFL's worst rushing attack in 2019. The next piece is the biggest, though: Can the Dolphins land their quarterback of the future in the draft? If they pick right, they are a player in the wide-open AFC East. Really!
The Giants have a fresh start in an Eli-free world, and their work in free agency thus far indicates Big Blue is now taking a more methodical approach to team building. GM Dave Gettleman made a couple of splashes, adding cornerback James Bradberry and middle linebacker Blake Martinez on substantial deals, and the decision to franchise Leonard Williams came with a hefty price tag ($16.1 million). But the whispers connecting the Giants to Jadeveon Clowney proved to be false, and the team didn't make a big splurge to upgrade the offensive line that many predicted. Don't be surprised if Gettleman uses the Giants' first draft pick (No. 4 overall) to address the team's offensive line or pass-rush needs.
The Lions have overhauled their defense, bringing in a host of new players, including cornerback Desmond Trufant, safety Jayron Kearse, defensive tackle Danny Shelton, defensive tackle Nick Williams and linebacker Jamie Collins. Darius Slay was traded away, and he made it clear on his way out the door that he looked forward to putting some distance between himself and head coach Matt Patricia. Patricia's rebuilt defense is going to have to work, or people are going to pay for it with their jobs. The big question looms: Is the Lions' first-round pick, No. 3 overall, up for sale? It should be.
The Bengals actually spent some money in free agency! Were they sending a message to Joe Burrow that they are indeed a team willing and able to compete? Probably not, but it's fun to connect dots. The Bengals used the franchise tag to hold onto receiver A.J. Green, then lifted the NFL's worst defense with big-money deals for defensive tackle D.J. Reader and cornerback Trae Waynes. All told, the Bengals spent $95 million on the two veterans. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Cincy had not committed more than $26 million to a single free agent since 2015. With Burrow waiting in the wings, the Bengals might be ready to rise. For real.
Turns out all that talk during combine week about keeping Cam Newton was just smoke. The Panthers were apparently ready to move on all along, and they did so by initially announcing that Newton was free to seek a trade last week -- messaging that caught Cam's ire -- before ultimately cutting him on Tuesday. Honestly, this was always the most likely outcome for an organization that seems intent on hitting the reset button with a new owner (David Tepper) and head coach (Matt Rhule) in place. Enter Teddy Bridgewater, who finally gets to be The Man nearly four years after that catastrophic knee injury. The rebuild goes beyond the QB position: cornerback James Bradberry, defensive end Mario Addison, defensive tackle Vernon Butler and safety Eric Reid have all exited the picture. The Panthers are starting over.
Ron Rivera ended up importing the quarterback from Charlotte we all expected ... Kyle Allen. This might not have been the splash move some anticipated in Washington, but it makes sense to give Dwayne Haskins another year to develop, and Allen is a solid backup type who already knows new coordinator Scott Turner's offense. Best-case scenario here is Allen helps Haskins absorb a new offense, and Haskins' game elevates as a result. Kendall Fuller was a solid add to the secondary. On the downside, the Trent Williams stalemate is going in the wrong direction. The left tackle's agent released a statement on Tuesday that opened with the following plea: "The relationship between the Redskins and Trent Williams has reached a point where it's in the best interest that the Redskins trade or release him."
The Jags are starting over. Cornerback A.J. Bouye, defensive lineman Calais Campbell and quarterback Nick Foles were all moved in trades after last year's grim 6-10 finish. Pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue is a legitimate tag-and-trade candidate. Yes, a youth movement is on in Jacksonville, and Gardner Minshew looks like he'll get the chance to lead the way. Several notable veteran QB options remain on the market, but the Jaguars would be wise to give Minshew a full season to show what he can do. This will be a developmental year for the franchise; why put a 30-something QB under center? Jacksonville did hand LB Joe Schobert a hefty deal and signed veteran cornerback Darqueze Dennard, but this is a team with its eye on tomorrow.