A popular saying inside the NFL is that building a roster is a continuous process throughout a season.
But by mid-May, following four months of the coaching cycle, two months of free agency, and seven rounds of the NFL Draft, 95 percent of a team’s roster is more or less set for the season, outside of a few trades and the usual churn at the bottom of the 90-man roster.
Here’s a look at the best moves of this offseason as teams jockey to take down the defending-champion Chiefs:
▪ Jets trade for quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Not to start with such an obvious choice, but this really should be a case where one player makes all the difference. The young, feisty Jets still finished 7-10 last year despite having literally the worst quarterback play in the NFL, with a league-low 75.0 passer rating. Rodgers may not be the same player as two years ago, and there may be an adjustment period, but he’s working with his former offensive coordinator in Nathaniel Hackett, he has friendly faces in Randall Cobb and Allen Lazard, and he has a lot of young talent around him, including a potentially great defense. With a real quarterback for the first time in a decade (or more), the Jets should contend with the Bills for the AFC East title, and should expect a deep playoff run.
▪ Dolphins hire defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. The Dolphins learned first-hand the power of finding the right coach, watching Tua Tagovailoa and the offense explode last year under the new scheme of Mike McDaniel (getting Tyreek Hill didn’t hurt, either). Now the Dolphins are hoping for a similar effect with Fangio, who has been one of the NFL’s best defensive coordinators for more than 20 years. The Dolphins’ defense ranked 24th in points allowed (23.5 per game), 29th in interceptions (9), and allowed the fifth-most passing yards (4,282) and fifth-highest passer rating (95.3). If Fangio can straighten up the defense, the Dolphins should have more than enough offense to be dangerous.
▪ Ravens overpay for Odell Beckham. On its face, the contract sounds ludicrous: One year, $15 million fully guaranteed, plus $3 million in incentives, for a receiver who will be 31 this fall, has twice torn his ACL, hasn’t played in a year and a half because of his latest knee injury, and hasn’t been to the Pro Bowl since 2016. The Jets wanted Beckham but were reportedly only offering in the $5 million guaranteed range, per Pro Football Talk.
It’s hard to see the Ravens getting good value for the contract, but it was still smart spending. It helped make Lamar Jackson happy, which is all that matters for the franchise. The $15 million for Beckham was merely the cost of business, and the result is a content, distraction-free franchise quarterback.
▪ Saints sign Derek Carr. The Saints had a quietly solid defense last year, finishing fifth in total defense and ninth in points allowed. Like the Jets, they were felled by subpar quarterback play from journeyman Andy Dalton, and Jameis Winston returning from an ACL injury. The Raiders didn’t believe Carr was the answer, but he’s still a decent starter who is a clear upgrade for the Saints and provides some stability as they figure out the future. Adding Carr should be enough for the Saints to win a weak NFC South.
▪ Chargers hire offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. The Chargers have built from 7-9 to 9-8 and 10-7 in Justin Herbert’s three seasons but have yet to win a playoff game or truly unlock Herbert’s massive potential. Moore, whose Cowboys finished first and fourth in points the past two years, should be the man to do it after getting terrific production out of Dak Prescott for four years. Moore may be the Chargers’ head coach before long, too.
▪ Vikings hire defensive coordinator Brian Flores. The Vikings’ once-great defense has been mired in a three-year slide as key players have aged and youngsters haven’t developed. This year might be another tough one because the personnel is largely the same, but Flores is a great choice to instill discipline and rebuild the defense over the long haul, if the Vikings can keep him that long.
▪ Bengals sign left tackle Orlando Brown. The Bengals have reached two consecutive AFC Championship games (and one Super Bowl) despite Joe Burrow taking an NFL-high 92 sacks the last two years. Not many people expected the Chiefs to let Brown go and instead give $80 million to the Jaguars’ Jawaan Taylor, but the Bengals smartly pounced when Brown became available. The 6-foot-8-inch, 340-pound left tackle has allowed just six sacks in his last 57 games and is used to playing deep in the postseason with the Chiefs and Ravens. As a bonus, the Bengals got him on a solid deal, with Brown’s $16 million average ranking 10th among left tackles and far below the $25 million per year given to the Texans’ Laremy Tunsil.
▪ Cowboys add receiver Brandin Cooks and cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Even if both are past their primes, these are solid, low-risk additions for a 12-5 Cowboys team trying to get over the hump. Cooks, still only 29, should be a nice No. 2 next to CeeDee Lamb, and has showed an impressive ability to adapt to new surroundings, compiling six 1,000-yard seasons for four teams. Gilmore, 32, was still solid for the Colts last year and gives the Cowboys a feisty press-man cornerback to play opposite Trevon Diggs.
▪ Panthers hire coach Frank Reich. He got a bad deal in Indianapolis, getting fired for ill-fated quarterback decisions that were made above his head and outside of his control. His firing is the Panthers’ gain, as they found a terrific offensive coach to help mold No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young and make the Panthers exciting again. Reich’s Colts teams were always competitive despite horrible QB circumstances, and as an offensive coordinator with the Eagles he won a Super Bowl with a backup quarterback.
▪ The Seahawks get the best cornerback and receiver in the draft. We, of course, don’t really know which players will turn out to be the best from this year’s draft, but based on the information we had entering the draft, you’ve got to respect the work done by Seahawks general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll. Armed with picks 5 and 20 thanks to last year’s Russell Wilson trade, they came away with the players widely regarded as the top cornerback (Illinois’s Devon Witherspoon) and receiver (Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba) even though those weren’t necessarily the Seahawks’ biggest needs. But the Seahawks understand that you can’t have too much depth and explosive players at the game’s most important positions outside of quarterback.
SO LONG, SNYDER
Major headache about to go away
The NFL is on the verge of ridding itself of a major headache as Daniel Snyder moves forward with the sale of the Commanders to Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils owner Josh Harris, which the sides announced May 12. But the saga is not over quite yet, as NFL owners won’t be voting on the sale at this coming week’s spring owners’ meetings in Minneapolis, per Jeff Miller, the league’s executive vice president of communications. Eventually, a vote of 24 of 32 voters will be needed for the sale to go through.
Though Snyder has agreed to sell the team to Harris for $6.05 billion, the transfer won’t happen so quickly. Harris’s bid first has to be vetted by NFL staff and the league’s finance committee. So, too, do all of Harris’s limited partners, reportedly a sizable group of up to 30 investors, including Magic Johnson. Per the Washington Post, Harris’s complex bid likely would not satisfy the NFL’s high standards in previous situations, but the owners may still green-light it because they are desperate to be rid of Snyder.
The owners will get an update on the bid at the meetings, but Harris may not be approved until this summer.
“Nothing special or out of the ordinary as we would for any transaction of this sort,” Miller said of the timeline.
Also on the docket for the meetings, held Sunday-Tuesday:
▪ The owners will vote on a proposal for flexing late-season “Thursday Night Football” games that was tabled at March’s meeting. The proposal made a few owners furious, such as the Giants’ John Mara, over the disruption for teams and fans by moving games between Thursday and Sunday. But don’t be surprised if this passes, as Amazon surely wasn’t thrilled about getting a terrible slate of games for its $1 billion investment in 2022.
▪ The NFL will hold its second annual “coach accelerator program” over the three days, in which 40 minority and female coaches will network with owners and team executives and hear from industry leaders. Participants are mostly young position coaches rising up the ranks, but also include former head coaches such as Leslie Frazier and Anthony Lynn. Last year’s accelerator program helped lead the Titans to new GM Ran Carthon and the Eagles to new offensive coordinator Brian Johnson. The goal, of course, is to increase the pipeline of minority coaching candidates, as the NFL has just six minority head coaches out of 32.
Each team is sending someone it views as a future head coach but needs more exposure, and the Patriots selected defensive line coach DeMarcus Covington, who also got an opportunity to serve as a defensive coordinator at this year’s Senior Bowl (apparently the Patriots don’t want potential head-coach-in-waiting Jerod Mayo getting too friendly with the other owners).
In addition to networking opportunities with NFL power brokers, the coaches will hear from speakers that include an outside search firm who consults on coaching searches (Russell Reynolds Associates), an experienced agent who represents coaches (Trace Armstrong), and former McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson.
“The goal is to really engage with all stakeholders, people that are heavily involved in the process in someone getting an opportunity,” said Jonathan Beane, the NFL’s chief diversity and inclusion officer.
Ryan moving on, but not retiring
Matt Ryan joined CBS this past week as its newest studio analyst, but he specifically said he wasn’t retiring from playing, and the network’s press release avoided the word completely. Ryan, 38, probably knows that it’s time to call it a career after 15 NFL seasons, but the Boston College grad is no dummy.
Ryan has set himself up with a nice double-dip this fall — $12 million guaranteed from the Colts, and whatever he makes from CBS. The Colts saved $17 million by releasing Ryan in March, but he still had $12 million fully guaranteed for 2023, subject to offsets only for football salary, not broadcasting.
If Ryan officially retires, or doesn’t give the appearance of trying to find a quarterback job, the Colts could try to make a claim against paying him. So Ryan is smartly avoiding the R-word and maintaining the appearance that he could come back for the right opportunity, even though it’s hard to see a team paying him enough to make it worth it.
“I’ve just learned, at least during my experience in the 15 years I’ve played, to just not shut any doors,” Ryan said on SiriusXM.
More good news for Moreau
Fifth-year tight end Foster Moreau has had quite a journey this offseason as he navigates free agency for the first time.
A routine medical checkup with the Saints discovered Hodgkin’s lymphoma, for which Moreau, 26, underwent immediate treatment. But his situation has since taken several positive steps. First Moreau, a New Orleans native who played at LSU, signed a three-year, $12 million deal with his hometown Saints. The deal comes with $8.02 million fully guaranteed over two years, meaning it’s much more than a token contract. Moreau caught 12 touchdown passes in four seasons with the Raiders, catching a career-high 33 passes for 420 yards last year.
Then this past week came more encouraging news, with Saints GM Mickey Loomis surprisingly announcing that Moreau has a chance to play this season.
“That’s emotional to come take a physical and discover something that’s unexpected,” Loomis said. “And yet, they handled it so beautifully. And the great news is that the prognosis is good and even the treatment protocol that he’s under is going to allow him to do some things in this offseason, and hopefully play in the fall.”
The future is here when it comes to NFL broadcasts, and it’s not on free television. In 2022, the NFL moved its entire Thursday night slate to Amazon Prime and broadcast a London game on ESPN+. Those will continue in 2023, plus the NFL is adding a regular-season game (Bills-Chargers) and a Saturday night wild-card game exclusively for NBC’s Peacock streaming service. “The NFL is on the long march to paid TV,” tweeted NFL lifer Upton Bell. “The Super Bowl down the road will be on paid TV.” … Meanwhile, that massive “gulp” you heard Wednesday night came from the NFL when YouTube TV malfunctioned during the final four-plus minutes of the Celtics-Heat playoff game. The NFL just agreed to a seven-year, $14 billion deal to move its Sunday Ticket package to YouTube TV, ending a decades-long arrangement with DirecTV … Middle linebacker Devin White, the young star of the Buccaneers’ 2020 Super Bowl defense, is getting restless after they placed the fifth-year option on him and haven’t given him a long-term contract. White requested a trade in April, but GM Jason Licht said the team views White as part of its future. A month later, White posted a picture of himself on social media this past week with the caption, “Cowboy on the prowl,” the phrasing of which doesn’t seem accidental … How happy are Commanders fans to soon to be rid of Daniel Snyder? For Thursday’s game against Altoona, the Double A Bowie (Md.) Baysox gave a free general admission ticket to anyone named “Josh” or “Harris.” … An interesting post-draft story is unfolding for longtime agent David Canter, who is being investigated by the NFL Players Association for allegedly offering inducements (the use of vacation properties) to GMs to draft his clients with their late-round picks. Canter’s attorney, Mitchell Schuster, said in a statement on Friday, “The communications that are the subject of the investigation were no more than playful banter by Mr. Canter with industry colleagues, who interpreted them to be made in jest, as any reasonable person would.” The problem with that is apparently not everyone interpreted it as “playful banter,” considering that one or more people reported Canter’s conduct to the NFLPA. And Canter and his attorney essentially admitted guilt in their statement, even if they don’t think what they did was wrong. It is interesting to note that two Canter clients were drafted at the end of the seventh round, including the Rams’ pick for Mr. Irrelevant with the 259th and final pick, defensive end Desjuan Johnson.
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.