"The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry."
We don't need Robert Burns to suggest the same holds true for general managers feeling their oats in the middle of March, crafting big-swing moves for players talked about as gods at the ready to turn wavering squads into beasts.
The intentions are good -- and sometimes the acquisitions pan out -- but so often the lever-pulls we croon about in the offseason hit choppy agua, caught up in the muck of injuries and ill fate from the football deities above.
Good concepts with less-than-shiny results in 2022. That's what we're selling here.
Be a good reader and dive in.
49ers send a bundle to Carolina for CMC
Kyle Shanahan traded 2023 second-, third-, and fourth-round picks and a '24 fifth-rounder for a kid he used to babysit. While a cute storyline on paper, boldly swinging for Christian McCaffrey had doubters wondering if the Niners had finally delved too far into a hubris-filled self-evaluation of their own ability to soar deep into January. Instead, Shanahan and McCaffrey mind-melded from the opening snap, with the coach -- operating as a savvy conductor -- unleashing his newly polished weapon for a waterfall of yardage, points and on-field poetry.
The not-working-out point boils down to Shanahan babysitting McCaffrey in front of the boob tube come Sunday while the Eagles represent the NFC. Still, one of the game's most versatile backs is under contract for two more years while the Niners house a pair of rookie-deal passers in Brock Purdy and Trey Lance.
Bills give Miller nine figures
Von Miller, whom Buffalo nabbed on a six-year, $120 million deal, was a roaming terror who fit right into Sean McDermott's Buffalo deep front. The opening notes of his 2022 campaign saw him wreak ultra-havoc on former teammate Matthew Stafford in the NFL Kickoff Game. Miller's presence on the edge allowed the Bills to crush signal-callers without leaning on the blitz, masking over a banged-up secondary and filling the fan base with notions of laying a hurt on the likes of Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow when it mattered most.
The master plan proceeded swimmingly until Miller -- up to eight sacks on the year -- suffered a season-ending ACL tear in a pyrrhic victory over the Lions on Thanksgiving Day. Gregory Rousseau, Ed Oliver and A.J. Epenesa helped down the stretch, but Buffalo's monstrous front lost its next-level ability to terrify after Von exited stage left.
Lions trade up to draft speedy Williams
Jameson Williams was tucked away rehabbing a blown ACL until he exploded onto the scene with a 41-yard touchdown snag -- his first pro grab -- in a Week 14 win over the Vikings, the same club that agreed to the draft-day swap that allowed Detroit to move up to No. 12 to grab the former Alabama star. Eased into action, Williams turned his only other touch into a 40-yard dash against Chicago in Week 17.
With Ben Johnson returning to call plays, the Lions -- after finishing fifth-overall in offensive DVOA, per Football Outsiders -- roll into the offseason as one of the NFC's friskiest offerings. Williams does the same as an X-factor from the beyond.
Bengals sign Karras, Cappa and Collins
Cincinnati's offseason mission in 2022 was clear: Stop allowing the enemy to wallop our star quarterback. Joe Burrow's quick release, escapability and derring-do against the blitz fueled the club's Super Bowl run last season -- a Cinderella story that unfurled despite a patchwork line that allowed an NFL-worst 51 sacks in the regular season before Burrow was downed another 19 times in the playoffs.
The Bengals' front office rebuilt the offensive line by signing center Ted Karras, guard Alex Cappa and tackle La'el Collins. Karras (ranked 15th overall at his position, via Pro Football Focus) and Cappa (22nd) were sturdy additions, while Collins held his own until tearing his ACL on Christmas Eve. It grew darker from there, with Cappa lost for good via a Week 18 ankle injury and left tackle Jonah Williams suffering a dislocated kneecap in the wild-card win over Baltimore. Cincy survived with a gaggle of backups in a powerful romp over the Bills, but the line crumbled against a supersonic Chris Jones and friends in the AFC title tilt. Fans are left to wonder what this Bengals line would have pulled off if so many bodies weren't lost along the way.
Raiders reunite Adams with Carr
It's hard to argue with the raw statistics produced by this reunion of former Fresno State teammates. Adams shone bright in his Vegas debut, piling up 100 catches, a league-leading 14 touchdowns through the air and the second-most yards (1,516) of his starry career. He pulled off a whopping seven 100-yard performances with Carr at the wheel, proving that their BFF status could translate into monster numbers on the NFL gridiron.
Adams also vanished with 36 or fewer yards in five other contests -- four of them losses -- before Josh McDaniels scapegoated Carr, benching the loyal and longtime starter for the final two games of the year. Carr was far from his best in 2022, and now he's off team-hunting. Meanwhile, Adams' next reality could find him and Aa-Rod getting back together in Vegas after Rodgers contemplates complete darkness.
Chargers trade second-rounder for Mack
If all people recall are the Bolts blowing a 27-0 playoff lead against Jacksonville, tough luck. You can't lobby for more nuance, but Brandon Staley's defense had its moments. So did Khalil Mack, who hit the scene with a vengeance, generating five pressures and three sacks in a one-man smashing of the Raiders in Week 1. Having worked with Staley in Chicago, Mack made good on his second-round bounty with a team-leading eight sacks alongside a rash of splash plays, led by his strip of Drake London in a 20-17 win over the Falcons. "I think the last time I saw somebody just strip the ball in the open field and go the other way was probably little league," said fellow defender Christian Covington "This guy’s a freak."
The trade worked out. The Chargers did not.
The G.O.A.T.'s unretirement
On edge. Staring slightly off into a netherworld. Brady never felt entirely hooked into the motherboard during his final pro season. We still saw him hurl more pass attempts (733) and completions (490) than anyone in earth's history, but those loom as compilation stats that reflect a Buccaneers offense that happily ignored the concept of ground tactics. I doubt Brady sits around pumping his fists over heaving more passes than any other. Instead, he seethes over a scheme that morphed into an apparition against the Cowboys on a Monday in January -- his final night in the ring. It was an ugly campaign, littered with images of Brady jeering toward the sideline, flinging Microsoft Surfaces and wondering where Mike Evans wandered off to. Still, he threw the ball with authority and did most of the things Pro Football Focus wanted him to do.
The Bucs were an annoyance. Tough on the eyes, discombobulated and barely believable. Brady, though, forged on with a sense of mechanical must-do. Unwilling to switch off the machine. Even in those final minutes against Dallas, we found him eyeing the hidden blitzer, correcting receivers, getting hot at the officials. Refusing to vanish.
Sights so familiar to everyone who's watched him for autumns on end. I'm glad we had him one more time.