Sure feels like the wheeling and dealing in this NFL offseason is moving faster and more furious than ever before. Wow. Exactly the kind of distraction we all need right now. (Stay healthy, safe and smart, everyone.) Just one week into the new league year, I’m overflowing with praise for moves across the NFL …
I’m obsessed with Miami’s signing of Byron Jones. Great player. Great leader. Great building block. He’s a crucial piece in the rebuilding efforts of Brian Flores and Co. I’m also a big fan of what the Jets are doing to help Sam Darnold. Gang Green has already added three new starting offensive linemen (OT George Fant, OG Greg Van Roten, C Connor McGovern) and they could snag a top-tier OT with the 11th overall pick next month. That’s how you make your third-year quarterback comfortable. And I love the Panthers swapping in Teddy Bridgewater for the injury-riddled Cam Newton. New head coach Matt Rhule has time. Carolina’s moving in the right direction.
But all of those moves look great in the long view. Which acquisitions will have the biggest impact on the 2020 season? Here’s my list, Schein Nine style:
1) Tom Brady, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
How he was acquired: Received a two-year contract with $50 million guaranteed and up to $4.5 million each year in performance-based incentives. The deal also includes a no-trade clause and a no-tag clause.
OK, is he still playing at the G.O.A.T. level? That’s debatable. But I fully expect him to shine in his age-43 season.
Brady was hardly the issue for a sagging Patriots offense last season. The receiving corps was … lacking. The run game sorely missed injured fullback James Develin. One man, even when that man is Brady, can only do so much. But with his new supporting cast in Tampa, Brady can be Brady again. This is a division-winning kind of move. It’s the type of signing that puts a team in Super Bowl contention.
Brady and offensive guru Bruce Arians will make sweet music together. The Bucs might have the best receiver duo in the NFL with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. And Brady will maximize tight end O.J. Howard‘s talent, while taking full advantage of TE Cameron Brate‘s red-zone savvy. Defensively, the Bucs have plenty of talent. The edge-rushing duo of Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul just combined for 28 sacks — and that was with JPP missing six games. Meanwhile, veteran linebacker Lavonte David remains one of the NFL’s most criminally underrated stars, while LB Devin White looked like the real deal as a rookie.
I think Tampa Bay is going to win at least 11 games. Wouldn’t it be something if the Bucs became the first team ever to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium? With the great Tom Brady on board, it’s absolutely possible.
2) DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Arizona Cardinals
How he was acquired: Traded from Houston to Arizona (along with a 2020 fourth-round pick) in exchange for RB David Johnson, a 2020 second-round pick and a 2021 fourth-rounder.
The only thing missing from this transaction was a ski mask and a gun. Steve Keim robbed the Texans. I still can’t believe this trade actually went down.
Hopkins has been one of the very best receivers in the NFL for years. Even when he was paired with quarterbacks like Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, Brock Osweiler and Tom Savage, the guy still put up numbers. With Deshaun Watson under center, he was predictably magical. Hopkins is a flat-out megastar. And now, the Cardinals get him at age 27, at the peak of his powers.
With Kliff Kingsbury calling plays for a receiving corps that includes Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk, Kyler Murray will be in heaven. I won’t bat an eye if Hopkins leads the league in catches and yards this year.
3) Calais Campbell, DL, Baltimore Ravens
How he was acquired: Traded from Jacksonville to Baltimore in exchange for a 2020 fifth-round pick. Received a new two-year, $27 million contract with $20 million guaranteed.
The perfect player going to the perfect team in the perfect city at the perfect time. Campbell is a sensational person and teammate. The five-time Pro Bowler is an excellent, versatile, selfless defensive lineman who makes everyone around him better. What a boost to a unit that already was quite imposing.
Baltimore’s defense was arguably the best in the NFL in the second half of last season. But then Derrick Henry absolutely gashed the Ravens in the Divisional Round. Consequently, astute GM Eric DeCosta has brought in Campbell, as well as run-stopping extraordinaire Michael Brockers, to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
Baltimore fans are brilliant. They appreciate great players in the trenches. They are going to adore Campbell.
4) Stefon Diggs, WR, Buffalo Bills
How he was acquired: Traded from Minnesota to Buffalo (along with a 2020 seventh-round pick) in exchange for a 2020 first-round pick, fifth-round pick, sixth-round pick and a 2021 fourth-rounder.
The Bills are going to take the AFC East and win at least one home playoff game. Don’t believe me? Well, a year ago around this time, I predicted Buffalo would be the 2019 season’s Cinderella team — and they proceeded to post their best record of this millennium (10-6) and hit the postseason. So I think I’ve earned some trust in this area. And this Diggs deal has me channeling my inner Joe Namath once again.
Josh Allen needed a true No. 1 receiver to go with deep threat John Brown and slot machine Cole Beasley. The dynamic duo of GM Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott got it done. I am a huge Diggs fan — and not the least bit worried about some perceived “diva” concerns. McDermott will make sure his new playmaker understands — and embraces — this great Bills culture this regime is building.
With Brady departing New England and Diggs arriving in Buffalo, the Bills are one of the BIG early winners of this offseason.
5) Emmanuel Sanders, WR, New Orleans Saints
How he was acquired: Received a two-year, $16 million contract.
When New Orleans signed Sanders, I audibly gasped — in a good way! What a perfect move. Somehow, despite highly limited cap space, the Saints found a way to scoop up Sanders and bring back former first-round pick Malcolm Jenkins to lead the defensive backfield. Bravo, Mickey Loomis.
While Drew Brees just inked a two-year deal, he’s clearly a year-to-year player at this stage of his career. So New Orleans has to be ALL IN. This is the kind of savvy signing that gives the 41-year-old the best chance to make one last run at a second ring. Sanders is the ultimate No. 2 receiver behind Michael Thomas, who is the best wideout in the game today. Add in a healthy Alvin Kamara and tight end Jared Cook, and New Orleans’ offense will light up scoreboards once again.
6) Darius Slay, CB, Philadelphia Eagles
How he was acquired: Traded from Detroit to Philadelphia in exchange for a 2020 third-round pick and a 2020 fifth-rounder. Received a three-year, $50 million extension with $30 million guaranteed.
If Slay played for the Bears or Packers, you wouldn’t have to explain that he’s a star. But he languished away on the one team that has never won the NFC North, the lowly Detroit Lions. He feuded with head coach Matt Patricia, and in a related story, he’s now an Eagle.
This is the simple beauty of outstanding Eagles GM Howie Roseman: He sees a problem and fixes it. Philadelphia’s cornerback group might’ve been the worst in the NFL last season. Slay made his third straight Pro Bowl last season. Seems like a match.
7) Jack Conklin, OT, Cleveland Browns
How he was acquired: Received a three-year, $42 million contract with $30 million fully guaranteed.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but I LOVE what the Browns have done this offseason. No, really — I mean it this time!
Conklin is a rock who immediately boosts both the run and pass games in Cleveland. Conklin and TE Austin Hooper are not only great fits at their respective positions, but they add class, character and accountability — and both will help Baker Mayfield immensely. This is no small thing, as the former No. 1 overall pick heads into a pivotal third NFL season.
Don’t sleep on the Browns. Seriously!
8) DeForest Buckner, DT, Indianapolis Colts
How he was acquired: Traded from San Francisco to Indianapolis in exchange for a 2020 first-round pick (No. 13 overall). Received a four-year, $84 million contract extension.
Colts general manager Chris Ballard didn’t hesitate to trade a first-round pick and reward Buckner with a megabucks deal. No wonder: This cat is an absolute star. Buckner gets to the quarterback, breaks up passes and commands the kind of attention that makes life easier for everyone around him.
During each of the past two Super Bowl weeks, Colts linebacker Darius Leonard has come on my SiriusXM Radio show. Both times, he has stressed how intense Indianapolis’ practices are, and how this makes game day seem easy for the defense under the watchful eye of DC Matt Eberflus. I’ve been thinking about this since news of the trade first broke. Buckner will not only fit right in, but he will carry this defense to new heights.
9) Cory Littleton, LB, Las Vegas Raiders
How he was acquired: Received a three-year contract worth up to $36 million.
This signing is a matchmaker’s dream. The Raiders were desperate for a fundamentally sound player who could provide some leadership at this ultra-important position. Littleton is the right guy at the right time.
Still squarely in his prime at age 26, Littleton fully stuffed the stat sheet in each of his past two years with the Rams, becoming one of the better inside linebackers in football. This is a major upgrade for the Raiders as they start a new chapter in franchise history with the move to Vegas.
Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.