9 Weeks Until NFL Kickoff: Offseason winners and losers
The NFL season never truly ends, we just go through a few months without games, and the spring and summer of 2022 have proven just how gripping the league is even without on-field action.
Most of the big names free agents have been signed and numerous high-profile trades have been completed, including this week’s Baker Mayfield deal between Cleveland and Carolina, so we have more than enough data to pick the winners and losers of the so-called offseason.
Keep in mind, this is not a comprehensive list. There are more than three teams/parties that have had a good offseason, and there are more than three teams that have seen better summer months. Alas, these are some of the highlights from each category.
NFL Offseason Winners
1. Wide receivers
Are you a top-tier wide receiver? Or even a somewhat decent receiver? If so, congratulations on your big pay day this offseason. It started with the Green Bay Packers dealing the best receiver in the NFL, Davante Adams, to the Las Vegas Raiders, who subsequently gave him over $65 million guaranteed. Then there was Tyreek Hill being shipped out of Kansas City to the Miami Dolphins, who gave the Chiefs a ton of picks to make the deal and then gave a boatload of cash to Hill. A.J. Brown got $57 million guaranteed after being traded to the Philadelphia Eagles and Super Bowl MVP Cooper Kupp got a new deal, too. And, of course, there was Christian Kirk getting an absurd free agent deal from the Jacksonville Jaguars. If you were a pass catcher on the market, odds are you got paid handsomely over the last several months.
2. Trevor Lawrence
Yes, Trevor Lawrence, the same quarterback who completed less than 60% of his passes and led the NFL in interceptions as a rookie. He was undeniably bad in his first year in Jacksonville, but can you blame him? Look at the situation around him. His head couch, to be as kind as possible, was an absolute clown and the roster around him was dreadful (go look at who was catching passes from him, it wasn’t pretty). However, this offseason is a good reason why you should hold on to your Lawrence stock. He’s got a legitimately good NFL coach leading the way for him and the offense now, he has legitimate pass catchers (even if the contract for Christian Kirk is mind-blowing) and they restocked the rest of the roster with a bevy of early draft picks. Diamond hands, Lawrence believers.
3. Denver Broncos
After years of pleading and begging God with unmatched fervor to send Aaron Rodgers their way, the Denver Broncos finally got a reliable starting quarterback. No, it’s not Rodgers, but acquiring Russell Wilson is a palatable consolation. In all seriousness, even after a down year 2021, Wilson brings a level of competence and playmaking ability that Denver hasn’t seen since the Peyton Manning era. There’s a ton of talent in the Broncos’ receivers room, and with a stud young running back in Javonte Williams and a solid offensive line, Denver’s offense is shaping up to be one of the best in a deep AFC. The Broncos do play in arguably the toughest division in football, but they’ve got the firepower to till contend for a division crown.
Honorable mention: The Cincinnati Bengals’ offensive line
NFL Offseason Losers
1. Cleveland Browns
The term “loser” is taking on a large role here. Above all else, the Browns gave up a potentially franchise-altering number of picks to the Houston Texans in order to trade for Deshaun Watson. The same Deshaun Watson who, at the time, was facing more than 20 civil suits alleging sexual misconduct and assault. What’s more, Cleveland also gave him an outrageous, fully guaranteed contract that even has a miniscule Year 1 cap hit in case the quarterback gets suspended for the season (they’re still awaiting that decision). And, of course, this entire process led to a destroyed relationship with Baker Mayfield, who had been Cleveland’s best quarterback since returning to the NFL by a long shot, eventually ending in the aforementioned trade with Carolina. In the race to find the biggest loser, everyone other NFL team was playing for second this offseason.
2. Chicago Bears
Chicago is doing a tremendous job of not building a roster around Justin Fields that’s conducive to the young quarterback’s success. The Bears have the worst receiving corps in the NFL and bolstered it by drafting a 25-year-old kick returner in the third round, their offensive line could be one of the worst in the NFL and their defense continues to shed talent (and pass rusher Robert Quinn might be next). It wasn’t like Fields set the world ablaze in his rookie year, so to not do more to surround him with talent (see: Miami, Philadelphia) is malpractice.
3. New England Patriots
What is New England’s plan? The Patriots weren’t able (or willing) to keep several key free agents this offseason, most notably including J.C. Jackson, and then there was the NFL draft. Bill Belichick shocked everyone by taking Chattanooga guard Cole Strange with the 29th pick, then followed that up in the second round be selecting Baylor receiver Tyquan Thornton, who was taken in the midst of run on pass catchers of whom Thornton was likely the worst prospect (George Pickens, Alec Pierce and Skyy Moore were all selected within the next four picks). After breaking the bank for free agents a year ago, it feels like Belichick set out this offseason to prove that he’s smarter than everyone else. We’ll see how that pays off heading into Mac Jones’ second season.
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