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The Best NFL Players on New Teams This Season – The Ringer

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Remembering every bit of NFL player movement during the offseason is hard. It’s one thing to see a push notification saying DeAndre Hopkins was traded to the Cardinals in March, but it’s another to see him in a Cardinals uniform. Every year there are a few players who make us think, “Oh yeah, I forgot about that.” This year may have more of those moments than usual. The most important NFL transactions this year happened in mid-March, when there was more pressing news in the world than the Chicago Bears trading for Nick Foles. So with training camp scheduled to begin in less than two weeks, let’s run through the best players who switched teams this offseason and what to expect from them in 2020.

One important caveat: Rather than listing 22 players to cover each starting offensive and defensive position, we’ll list the 22 most relevant players who switched teams. That means five quarterbacks and zero offensive guards. No disrespect to offensive linemen, but nobody will see Graham Glasgow playing left guard for the Denver Broncos, and think, “Oh yeah, I forgot about that.” We’re sorry, Graham. Now on to the 22.

Quarterback

Tom Brady

Old Team: New England Patriots
New Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Move: Signed a two-year deal for $50 million

OK, you probably remember this one. Brady, who turns 43 in August and definitely did not move to Florida as part of a midlife crisis, left the Patriots after the best 20-year period in recent sports history and signed with the Buccaneers, who have spent most of their NFL existence as an also-ran. Brady’s main job is to be better than Jameis Winston, which won’t be hard since Winston had as many pick-sixes last year (seven) as Brady had in the previous decade. In Tampa Bay, Brady will get a collaborative head coach in Bruce Arians, plus a stout defense returning all of its starters coordinated by Todd Bowles. With Brady, Tampa gets the most famous player in NFL history to turn around a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2007. And even if he can’t, he’ll sell a lot of jerseys.

Cam Newton

Old Team: Carolina Panthers
New Team: New England Patriots
The Move: Signed a one-year deal for $1 million plus incentives worth up to $7.5 million

Brady gets replaced in New England by Newton, who has one of the rarest résumés of all time: He’s a college football national champion, Heisman Trophy winner, no. 1 pick, and the 2015 NFL MVP. Despite Newton’s accomplishments and his relative youth at 31 years old, he signed for the veteran minimum of $1 million—and just $550,000 guaranteed—with incentives worth up to $7.5 million. Meanwhile, Cleveland gave $8 million guaranteed to Case Keenum to back up Baker Mayfield. The most generous explanation for that gap is that Newton’s health is an open question. After multiple shoulder surgeries, Newton appeared healthy only to suffer a foot injury in August that cost him most of the 2019 season and led to Carolina cutting him.

Philip Rivers

Old Team: Los Angeles Chargers
New Team: Indianapolis Colts
The Move: Signed a one-year deal for $25 million

Rivers has not missed a start since 2005, and now he is reunited with Colts head coach Frank Reich (his former offensive coordinator) and Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni (his former quarterbacks coach).

Nick Foles

Old Team: Jacksonville Jaguars
New Team: Chicago Bears
The Move: Traded for a fourth-round pick

The Bears brought in The Guy You’re Not Supposed to Worry About to back up Mitchell Trubisky and then declined Trubisky’s fifth-year option. This training camp “battle” may be over before it begins.

Teddy Bridgewater

Old Team: New Orleans Saints
New Team: Carolina Panthers
The Move: Signed a three-year deal for $63 million

Bridgewater parlayed five starts last year into the same three-year cash flow ($63 million) as Patrick Mahomes. The conservative quarterback will now team up with one of the most aggressive passing coaches in football in former LSU passing game coordinator Joe Brady, who was named the Panthers’ offensive coordinator this offseason.

Running Back

Todd Gurley

Old Team: Los Angeles Rams
New Team: Atlanta Falcons
The Move: One year for $5.5 million

This is sort of a homecoming for Gurley, who was a star at the University of Georgia. Gurley, who turns 26 next month, will try to regain the stardom he earned in Los Angeles before chronic knee issues diminished his abilities and led to the Rams releasing him in March, just two years after he signed a contract extension with $45 million guaranteed. Gurley replaces longtime Atlanta running back Devonta Freeman, but the Falcons threw the most pass attempts in 2019 and figure to be near the top of the leaderboards again in 2020.

“The main question that no one seems to know is, ‘What’s his health status? What’s his workload?’” Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter told reporters in May. “He averaged about 17 touches a game last year, which is a little bit lower than he had been when he was All-Pro. We’re just going to have to find that out once we get here and get him working, get him up and running.”

David Johnson

Old Team: Arizona Cardinals
New Team: Houston Texans
The Move: Traded with a second- and future fourth-round pick for DeAndre Hopkins and a fourth-rounder

In 2016, David Johnson had 2,118 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns. Since then, he has 2,191 yards from scrimmage and 16 touchdowns. Despite that drop-off and his cap hit—the second highest among running backs in 2020—Texans head coach/general manager Bill O’Brien traded superstar receiver DeAndre Hopkins and a pick for Johnson and two picks. Johnson replaces Carlos Hyde, who had the first 1,000-yard season of his career in Houston last year, and if Johnson stays healthy, perhaps he could be another surprise in the Houston backfield.

Melvin Gordon

Old Team: Los Angeles Chargers
New Team: Denver Broncos
The Move: Two years for $16 million

Gordon’s failed holdout ended with him going to division rival Denver, which will play the Chargers twice.

Wide Receiver

DeAndre Hopkins

Old Team: Houston Texans
New Team: Arizona Cardinals
The Move: Traded along with a fourth-rounder for David Johnson, Arizona’s second-rounder and a future fourth-rounder

Following this mind-boggling deal, Hopkins will play with second-year quarterback Kyler Murray in head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid system. It will be interesting to see how Hopkins is used. Last year, the Cardinals ran 216 plays with four receivers and zero tight ends, almost as much as the rest of the NFL combined. But Kingsbury reduced that usage after injuries and inexperience caught up with his receiving corps, and the team relied on its rushing attack instead. But now that Arizona has Hopkins in addition to third-year wideout Christian Kirk, Larry Fitzgerald, and last year’s rookies, perhaps Kingsbury will return to a more Air Raid–heavy approach.

Stefon Diggs

Old Team: Minnesota Vikings
New Team: Buffalo Bills
The Move: Traded for Buffalo’s first-, fifth-, sixth-rounders in 2020, fourth-rounder in 2021

The Hopkins move became hilarious once the Vikings got a better trade haul for a lesser player on the same day. Diggs posted enough passive-aggressive social media posts to get traded to Buffalo, where he will be part of Buffalo general manager Brandon Beane’s attempt to build around quarterback Josh Allen. For all of the talk about Allen’s arm being a cannon, he was among the NFL’s least accurate deep passers in 2019. Enter Diggs, one of the best deep-threat receivers: He ranked second to Michael Thomas in yards per route run and set a career high in receiving yards (1,130) last year. On paper, pairing Diggs and John Brown as speedsters running deep routes with slot man Cole Beasley and tight end Dawson Knox working underneath makes sense. On the field, Diggs may not be as effective. His yards per target last year was 38 percent higher than his career average, suggesting it may have been an outlier season.

Brandin Cooks

Old Team: Los Angeles Rams
New Team: Houston Texans
The Move: Traded with a 2022 fourth-rounder for a 2020 second-rounder

Cooks is now on his fourth team in his seven-year career. After four consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons, Cooks suffered two concussions last year and logged just 583 yards. Houston sending a second-rounder for him was shocking.

Emmanuel Sanders

Old Team: San Francisco 49ers
New Team: New Orleans Saints
The Move: Signed a two-year deal for $24 million

After years of the team using Alvin Kamara as the de facto no. 2 receiver, Sanders steps into the role as a proper second option on the outside. Sanders was last seen nearly reeling in a potential game-winning touchdown in the Super Bowl, but Jimmy Garoppolo overthrew the pass. The Saints may give Sanders his next-best chance to get back to the game, and vice versa.

Tight End

Rob Gronkowski

Old Team: Retired (Patriots held his rights)
New Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Move: Traded with a seventh-rounder for a fourth-rounder

Gronk stopped selling CBD oil long enough to unretire and reunite with Brady in Tampa Bay. Gronk is regaining the 20 pounds he lost once he retired, but we’ll see if he is anywhere near the same player he was in 2017, when he caught 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns. But Gronk hasn’t played a full season since 2011 and playing through painful injuries is what led to his retirement in the first place. We’ll see whether his connection to Brady can work in Florida, but first we have to see whether he can stay on the field.

Let’s say that Gronk can stay healthy. He’d give Tampa the most loaded tight end group in football alongside former Alabama standout O.J. Howard and end zone magnet Cameron Brate. Tampa has perhaps the NFL’s best receiving combo in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, but little depth behind them, and it would make sense for Tampa Bay to lean on its tight end depth. But head coach Bruce Arians has a reputation for not using tight ends in the passing game, so it will be interesting to see Gronk’s place in this offense.

Jason Witten

Old Team: Dallas Cowboys
New Team: Las Vegas Raiders
The Move: Signed a one-year deal for $4 million

Witten unretired from the Monday Night Football announcing booth last year to return to Dallas, where he looked cooked. Now he gets $4 million to be a highly paid babysitter as he serves as a role model for the dozens of 20-something Raiders players who just moved to Las Vegas.

Offensive Line

Trent Williams

Old Team: Washington TBDs
New Team: San Francisco 49ers
The Move: Traded for a 2021 third- and 2020 fifth-round pick

The elite left tackle, who was clearly Washington’s best player in the past decade, had a highly publicized dispute with the team after he said the team medical staff withheld information from him about a growth on his scalp that turned out to be cancerous. “I almost lost my life,” Williams told reporters in October.

Washington refused to trade Williams for months, but eventually acquiesced and sent him to San Francisco, where Williams will play for former Washington offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. The move may not have worked without longtime 49ers left tackle Joe Staley delaying his retirement announcement until after the team swung the Williams deal, thus preventing Washington from raising its asking price.

Jack Conklin

Old Team: Tennessee Titans
New Team: Cleveland Browns
The Move: Signed a three-year deal for $42 million

The Browns could barely protect quarterback Baker Mayfield last year, so they spent in free agency for Conklin, the former no. 8 pick in the 2016 draft. He has been solid in Tennessee, but is a huge upgrade over Cleveland’s past options at tackle.

Defensive Line

Calais Campbell

Old Team: Jacksonville Jaguars
New Team: Baltimore Ravens
The Move: Traded for a fifth-round pick

It’s not often that a defensive end with a 95 overall Madden rating gets dealt for a fifth-round pick. The Ravens have the NFL’s deepest secondary, and they made what might be the move of the offseason by stealing Campbell from the Jaguars to bolster their pass rush. Campbell, who is tied for the third-most quarterback hits in the past three seasons (77), pairs with Baltimore pass rusher Matt Judon to give the Ravens defense a serious chance at repeating its success from last year.

DeForest Buckner

Old Team: San Francisco 49ers
New Team: Indianapolis Colts
The Move: Traded for a first-rounder

The 49ers dealt their defensive captain and the most underrated player on their fearsome defensive line for Indy’s no. 13 pick in the draft. The Niners ultimately used their first-rounder (no. 14 after a swap with Tampa Bay) on University of South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw. Kinlaw is a cheaper option than Buckner, who Indianapolis signed to a contract extension that pays more than $20 million annually. The 49ers hope their defensive talent is so deep they can get by with Kinlaw playing for cheap, and the Colts hope Buckner can bring the interior presence they lacked last year to dominate at the line of scrimmage. Indy was in the bottom quarter of the league in quarterback knockdown rate last year, but this could be a much better pass rushing group if outside linebackers Justin Houston and Kemoko Turay stay healthy.

Secondary

Chris Harris Jr.

Old Team: Denver Broncos
New Team: Los Angeles Chargers
The Move: Signed a two-year deal for $17 million

Harris ascended from undrafted free agent to the league’s best slot cornerback in his 20s, which is impressive enough, but last year he shifted to outside cornerback full time at 30 years old. His versatility and Super Bowl pedigree make him an excellent fit in Los Angeles, where he’ll play with a strong pass rush and a deep secondary. Between Harris and defensive back Derwin James, the Chargers now have two of the more versatile defensive backs in the NFL and can play different defensive schemes without substituting players. For a Chargers team that moved on from Rivers and will be playing quarterback Tyrod Taylor and/or rookie Justin Herbert, its best offense may be a good defense.

Darius Slay

Old Team: Detroit Lions
New Team: Philadelphia Eagles
The Move: Traded for third- and fifth-round picks

The Eagles have needed cornerback depth since their Super Bowl win (and before that, too, if we’re being honest), but had ignored the problem with Band-Aid solutions. Rather than shell out a king’s ransom of two first-round picks for Jacksonville’s Jalen Ramsey, the Eagles waited until they could snag Slay for cheap. Slay is one of the best cover corners in football, and while he wasn’t spectacular under Lions head coach Matt Patricia, he figures to rebound with Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who was his head coach for his rookie year in Detroit. Philly has already given Slay a contract paying him $43 million over the next three years, so the team seems confident in his ability to contribute. For Detroit, this meant the team traded away its two best defensive backs in less than a year (they dealt Quandre Diggs to Seattle for a fifth-rounder in October) and didn’t get more than a third-rounder in return. This trade is a good example of good organizations getting better and bad organizations getting worse.

Malcolm Jenkins

Old Team: Philadelphia Eagles
New Team: New Orleans Saints
The Move: Signed a deal that pays $24 million over the next three years

When the Saints played the Eagles in the divisional round of the playoffs in January 2019, New Orleans head coach Sean Payton told reporters that letting Malcolm Jenkins leave for the Eagles was one of the bigger mistakes the team has made. “Letting him out of the building certainly wasn’t a smart decision,” Payton told reporters in January.

A year later, Payton got his chance to bring Jenkins back.

Philadelphia booted Jenkins this offseason after a six-year tenure with the team that included Philly’s Super Bowl win. Jenkins returned to New Orleans, where he started his career with the 2009 Saints squad that won the Super Bowl. Jenkins, one of the NFL’s most visible activists for social justice (he landed a CNN contributor role in June), will fill the on-field void left by Vonn Bell, who left for the Bengals in free agency. At 32 years old, Jenkins is no longer at his peak, but he is playing on perhaps the most stacked team he’s seen in his decadelong career.

Special Teams

Greg Zuerlein

Old Team: Los Angeles Rams
New Team: Dallas Cowboys
The Move: Signed a deal that pays $2.5 million in 2020

Legatron is perhaps the only kicker outside of Baltimore’s Justin Tucker who could warrant inclusion on this list. The longtime Rams kicker left L.A. for Dallas this offseason and replaces Kai Forbath, who himself replaced Brett Maher last season after Maher was let go by Dallas for missing a third of his kicks for the team. The Cowboys have not had an above-average kicking season by field goal percentage since 2015. Zuerlein was above that mark from 2016 to 2018. While his percentage dipped in 2019, the Cowboys are hoping for an improvement in what they’ve gotten from the position in recent years.

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