Skip to main content

The Brandt Report

Six best NFL offseasons of 2020: Dolphins, Cardinals in strong shape

The idea of "winning the offseason" has become a cliched marker of impending doom -- but the fact is, successful teams always have good players and coaches, and those good players and coaches are almost always brought onboard in the offseason.

Some of the teams that made major additions in 2020, of course, are going to fall on their faces once on-field action gets underway. But some of them will take major steps forward in large part because of the players they drafted, signed or traded for, or the coaches they hired.

Below, I've identified the six teams that have enjoyed the best offseasons thus far. These teams all put themselves in position to actually win more games this season by virtue of what they accomplished after the 2019 campaign drew to a close.

The roster rebuild that began in 2019 under coach Brian Flores and general manager Chris Grier couldn't be going more smoothly. Let's start with the quarterback position, where the Dolphins located a potential answer to their decades-long quest to replace Dan Marino without having to give up any extra draft capital. Because Miami was able to stand pat at No. 5 and still land Tua Tagovailoa, the team was able to also add five more players by the early portion of Round 3, including two more (tackle Austin Jackson and cornerback Noah Igbinoghene) in Round 1. The Dolphins also used their ample cap space to add difference-making free agents, most notably cornerback Byron Jones, linebacker Kyle Van Noy, defensive end Shaq Lawson and guard Ereck Flowers. It might take some time for these new pieces to gel, but the Dolphins are once more on the type of solid footing that would have made the late, legendary Don Shula proud.

Some might question exactly how much Tom Brady has left in the tank, considering he'll be 43 by the time the season starts. But there's no doubting the positive impact he's already had on this team since signing on to play quarterback. Brady prompted Rob Gronkowski to emerge from retirement and head to Tampa while also giving a massive boost to the franchise's profile, as reflected in the five prime-time games and four 4:25 p.m. ET kickoffs that appeared on the Bucs' schedule. There's nothing like adding one of the best quarterbacks of all time to provide the rest of the players on this roster with the hope that this will be the year Tampa returns to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. One other piece of good news: The defense should be able to build off a strong finish to 2020, especially with the return of the franchise-tagged Shaquil Barrett and the re-signed Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh.

Upgrading the NFL's 32nd-ranked defense was expected to be the Cardinals' top offseason priority, and Arizona made huge strides toward accomplishing that by choosing Isaiah Simmons No. 8 overall in the draft, as well as by signing DT Jordan Phillips and linebackers Devon Kennard and De'Vondre Campbell. One thing that wasn't expected: adding one of the NFL's top receivers and finding someone to take David Johnson (and his contract) off their hands in one fell swoop. With reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year Kyler Murray now throwing to multi-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins, Arizona should be in position to compete in what's shaping up to be the NFL's toughest division entering the 2020 season.

John Elway has taken plenty of grief over the Broncos reaching three-plus consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1972. There is a good chance the skid will come to an end in 2020. First, Elway and head coach Vic Fangio added two quality coaches in offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and quarterbacks coach Mike Shula, who will help put QB Drew Lock in position to succeed in Year 2. Then, Elway radically improved the offense around Lock. Signing Melvin Gordon to pair with Phillip Lindsay gives the Broncos one of the NFL's more formidable 1-2 punches at running back, while ascendant young receiver Courtland Sutton was given a boost with the draft selection of Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler -- that was the first time in franchise history that Denver drafted receivers with its only first- and second-round picks. Meanwhile, the shaky offensive line was bolstered by the free agency signings of Graham Glasgow and the third-round selection of Lloyd Cushenberry. Elway didn't ignore the defense, either, trading for A.J. Bouye and five-time Pro Bowler Jurrell Casey, then selecting cornerback Michael Ojemudia in Round 3. The Broncos aren't quite ready to catch the Chiefs yet, but the gap between the two AFC West rivals should be much smaller than it was in 2019.

When the Raiders open the season, only four offensive starters (QB Derek Carr, LT Kolton Miller, OG Gabe Jackson and C Rodney Hudson) will likely be the same from the group that was on the field for Jon Gruden's first game back as head coach in Week 1 of the 2018 season. The dramatic reshaping of the roster continued this offseason with a slew of free agency acquisitions, including a needed upgrade at linebacker via the signings of Nick Kwiatkoski and Cory Littleton, the additions of Damarious Randall at safety and Carl Nassib on the edge, and a trio of ex-Cowboys (Jason Witten, Jeff Heath and Maliek Collins). The veterans should complement what the Raiders hope will be a productive draft class, led by a pair of first-rounders (receiver Henry Ruggs and cornerback Damon Arnette) who are expected to push for starting spots immediately. The most intriguing acquisition was quarterback Marcus Mariota. I could see him doing the same thing to Carr that Ryan Tannehill did to Mariota last season and taking the reins, should Gruden decide to make a change under center.

Saints GM Mickey Loomis is the Harry Houdini of salary cap management. As usual, he was able to make a number of impactful moves despite facing a less-than-favorable financial situation, like bringing back Drew Brees, signing guard Andrus Peat to an extension and adding safety Malcolm Jenkins and receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Losing backup Teddy Bridgewater to free agency might be mitigated by the addition of former No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston, who took a bargain-basement deal as he tries to get his career back on track under the tutelage of Brees and head coach Sean Payton. New Orleans couldn't keep everybody, of course, but draft choices Cesar Ruiz and Zack Baun should be in line to effectively replace departed guard Larry Warford and linebacker A.J. Klein, respectively. If this is indeed the 41-year-old Brees' final season, he should go into it feeling good about the effort the team made to assemble a Super Bowl-caliber roster around him.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.

Related Content