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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

10 best moves of the NFL offseason

The new league year is still less than two weeks old, but already the entire NFL landscape has changed quite a bit thanks in large part to free agency and an uncharacteristically active trade market. Couple that with a plethora of new head coaches, new general managers and shifts in front office structure, and there’s been a substantial amount of shakeup around the NFL.

But which teams and players have benefited most from all these changes? Who has gotten better? Who has gotten worse?

Here’s a look at the 10 best moves of the 2018 NFL offseason to date.

10. Eagles acquire Michael Bennett

The Philadelphia Eagles won their first Super Bowl title on the shoulders of their dominant defense, which was highlighted by one of the better and more versatile defensive lines in football. So, what did the Eagles do as they begin their path to a repeat? They further bolstered their defensive line with the addition of Michael Bennett, who had been traded by the Seattle Seahawks as part of their organizational purge.

To land Bennett and a seventh-round pick, the Eagles sent back a fifth-round selection in the 2018 draft and wide receiver Marcus Johnson, who signed with Philadelphia as an undrafted rookie out of Texas in 2016 and was rarely used.

Unfortunately for the Eagles, Bennett came with some unexpected baggage. He recently had a warrant issued for his arrest as part of an ongoing assault investigation. Bennett allegedly injured a 66-year-old paraplegic woman during Super Bowl LI, which led to an indictment by a Texas Grand Jury.

The charge carries a potential for 10 years in prison, but so long as Bennett gets his life in order and pays the proper restitution, it should still result in a good acquisition for the Eagles.

9. Texans sign safety Tyrann Mathieu

When the Arizona Cardinals decided to part ways with veteran Tyrann Mathieu, he immediately became the premier safety available on the free agent market. And it didn’t take very long for a plethora of teams to come calling. Mathieu made it immediately clear that money wouldn’t determine where he eventually signed, acknowledging that he needed 2018 to showcase his talents and prove he’s still the same dominant player he once was.

In the end, it was the Texans who walked away victorious in the Mathieu race, signing the Honey Badger to a one-year, $7 million deal. And now Houston will get the best Mathieu can possibly offer.

“This is my test. Not too many people have my story,” Mathieu told Bleacher Report. “And this is my story: A guy goes from unknown to a Heisman Trophy finalist. He gets kicked out of school. He absolutely rebounds himself. He becomes a millionaire. He’s taking care of his family. And then he’s getting injured.

“How can he get back to the top of that mountain? People never do it. You’ve seen guys go, and then drop off. They never returned. . . I will, though.”

8. Browns trade for quality quarterback, receiver tandem

The Cleveland Browns were extremely active to start the offseason and have not slowed down to date. And while they traded away some quality talent, they also brought some back in.

Whether or not the Browns intend to take a quarterback No. 1 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, they needed a starter for the upcoming season and were able to land by way of the Buffalo Bills, who accepted a third-round pick (No. 65 overall) in exchange for Tyrod Taylor.

With a quarterback in place, the Browns then sent DeShone Kizer to the Green Bay Packers for cornerback Damarious Randall.

On the very same day the Browns acquired Taylor, they also landed wide receiver Jarvis Landry from the Miami Dolphins for a 2018 fourth-round pick and a 2019 seventh-round pick.

It was a lot of wheeling and dealing for the Browns — just a small amount of the work they did through trade — but it gave them a quality quarterback-wide receiver combination for the 2018 season, and kept them in position to take a quarterback No. 1 overall should they so desire.

7. Patriots trade for DT Danny Shelton, CB Jason McCourty

The New England Patriots had an obvious problem on the defensive side of the ball in 2017, and Matt Patricia leaving to coach the Detroit Lions certainly added to lingering concerns as the new league year opened. But Bill Belichick and the Patriots promptly shored up some weaker areas by acquiring quality talent by whatever means necessary.

In two separate trades with the Cleveland Browns, the Patriots were able to land defensive tackle Danny Shelton and cornerback Jason McCourty, who will be paired with his twin brother, Devin.

What’s significant about these trades for the Patriots isn’t just that they were relatively inexpensive, but that they bolster their defensive line and secondary substantially. Shelton finished the 2017 with a Pro Football Focus grade of 81.5, while McCourty finished 2017 with a grade of 83.9.

Adding quality, consistent and serviceable talent is what the Patriots do in the offseason. Getting the most they can out of those players is what they do during the season. So love them or hate them, New England came out on top with both of these trades.

6. Raiders hire Jon Gruden as head coach

There were quite a few coaching hires in the NFL this offseason, including Steve Wilks by the Arizona Cardinals and Matt Patricia by the Detroit Lions. But perhaps none was immediately as impactful or stirring as the return of Jon Gruden to the Oakland Raiders.

Gruden’s return revitalized an Oakland fan base starved for success, and it seemed to have a similar impact on the players. And while there’s really no telling how Gruden’s second stint in Oakland will ultimately play out, it has the potential to boom just as much as it has the potential to bust.

It has, after all, been 10 long years since Gruden last graced an NFL sideline and 17 years since he was last part of the Raiders’ organization. But while serving as an ESPN broadcaster, he remained very close to the game. And there’s no denying the value Gruden was able to gain through his knowledge of football’s evolution even though he fully intends to go “old school” in his second stint with the franchise.

See Nos. 5-1 on Page 2

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