Save for Jadeveon Clowney, all of the NFL's big names in free agency have signed with their new teams. There are still impactful moves to be made but the shape of the league for the 2020 season is coming into focus.
The Houston Texans had a 24-0 lead on the Kansas City Chiefs last season. It was the Divisional Round of the playoffs. The Chiefs were the heavy favourites at home, but Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins led the Texans to that point. Everything fell apart when Bill O'Brien intervened on successive fourth downs. He managed to make the wrong call on both occasions. They weren't just calls that didn't work, they were egregiously bad decisions that went against comprehension.
While the Chiefs went on to win the Super Bowl, the Texans spent the next two months devastated by what could have been. O'Brien deserved all of the blame. But even with him as the head coach, the Texans entered the offseason as one of the best teams in the league. A relatively young team with a foundation to get better moving forward.
But Bill O'Brien intervened again.
Just like his fourth-down calls, there was no logic to trading DeAndre Hopkins. Reports suggest that Hopkins had threatened to hold out if he didn't get a big extension. Assuming accuracy, this still doesn't excuse the trade. If Hopkins wanted a big extension, he should have gotten it. If the Texans didn't want to pay him, they should have traded him for a far better return than what they got. Not only did the Texans not get any value back in the Hopkins trade, but they also made their immediate future worse by taking on David Johnson's contract.
Randall Cobb is Hopkins replacement. He's not an impact player. Instead of ascending to the top of the AFC South with a strong offseason showing, the Texans are moving backwards. Not only is that a problem in Houston but it's a problem for the NFL.
There are two great teams in the NFL right now. Both play in the AFC. The Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs are far-and-away the best teams in the league. The Ravens added Calais Campbell and Michael Brockers, while the Chiefs have managed to keep Sammy Watkins and Chris Jones so far. The San Francisco 49ers obviously made it to the Super Bowl and played the Chiefs close last year, but they've lost Emmanuel Sanders and DeForrest Buckner. Losing those key players will make it tougher to carry Jimmy Garoppolo one step further this season.
Hopkins went to a team that isn't ready to compete. The Arizona Cardinals are rebuilding so he's not going to elevate them into an immediate contender. That's the landscape of the league right now. It's very easy to pick the two best teams and then after that, it's a lot of ambiguity.
Although there is still a draft to be done and this year's rookie class is very talented at the top, the impact of rookies on a macro level is generally subdued. Very few rookies can immediately change the status of the team because they are still developing as individuals. Even the best quarterbacks come with large amounts of inconsistency. So understanding that, this is how each team ranks at this point.
1. Baltimore Ravens
As Off The Ball's Ronan Mullen noted on this week's podcast, the Ravens are reacting to that playoff loss this offseason. Signing Calais Campbell and Michael Brockers beefs up the defensive line so they are better suited to contain Derrick Henry should they meet again. Hayden Hurst's departure won't hurt the offence, instead it will allow Miles Boykin, Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown to have bigger roles.
Despite some areas still to address, this is the best team in football right now.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
No team has repeated as Super Bowl winners since the New England Patriots in 2004. It's incredibly difficult to do. Unusually, the Chiefs have retained all the key pieces from last year's team. Patrick Mahomes will enter next season as the best quarterback in football again. The reason the Ravens are ahead of them is the respective quality on the defensive side of the ball. The Chiefs defence got better as the season wore on last year but it's not a group laden with exceptional talent.
3. New Orleans Saints
Signing Emmanuel Sanders was a coup for the Saints. For years Sean Payton's teams didn't have capable receivers. Marques Colston was Brees' best option for a long time. Now they have the best starting receiver tandem in the league in Michael Thomas and Sanders. The former 49ers and Broncos receiver is overlooked because he's spent his recent years playing on bad offences in Denver and didn't have time to fully submerge himself in the offence in San Francisco.
The continued concern with the Saints is that Drew Brees doesn't play well at the end of the season. Now they no longer have Teddy Bridgewater as a starting-calibre backup too.
4. San Francisco 49ers
Sanders swapping San Francisco for the Saints hurts. The 49ers have good receivers but he was their best despite his limited production. His departure doesn't hurt as much as DeForrest Buckner's though. Buckner is now a Colt, costing the 49ers one of their best players. His replacement won't be as expensive, but he also won't be as effective once football actually starts. That's a huge deal for a team that likely peaked last season.
Carrying Jimmy Garoppolo to the Super Bowl again is going to be even tougher next season. Never mind winning the game itself.
5. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles had a lot of injuries last year. They still made the playoffs but then Carson Wentz got injured. Hoping for a healthy roster is something every team obviously does, but if the Eagles get it next season they could be the best team in the league. GM Howie Roseman has made many smart moves to address needs already this offseason. Darius Slay is the most notable name. Jatavis Brown and Javon Hargrave could prove to be breakout players with their new team.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tom Brady's new team are just outside the top five. Really, this is the point where the rankings become an indictment of the league as a whole. The Buccaneers need a number of young players on defence to take big steps forward next season to be anything close to a great team. Brady will solidify the quarterback spot but has to navigate his way through 16+ games behind a limited offensive line. The weapons and Bruce Arians' coaching should propel them into the playoffs.
7. Los Angeles Chargers
Quietly, the Los Angeles Chargers are rising up the league right now. Head Coach Anthony Lynn has said that Tyrod Taylor will start this season. Lynn is likely coaching for his job so taking a quarterback in the top-10 shouldn't appeal to him. Taylor is a good quarterback who was unfairly dismissed in Buffalo and set up to fail in Cleveland. Lynn has worked with him previously and understands how to win with him. Adding Trai Turner to the offensive line gives them a strong run-blocking unit.
Chris Harris is a veteran and one of the best slot cornerbacks in the NFL. He will create the best secondary in the league with the Chargers. Hunter Henry returns on the franchise tag while Mike Williams continues to develop into one of the best receivers in the league.
8. Seattle Seahawks
Jadeveon Clowney remains on the free agent market. He wants $20 million per year and nobody wants to give it to him. That's a reflection on Clowney's limitations as a pass rusher. It will keep his price down for whoever signs him and also be the reason the Seahawks won't miss him that much if he goes elsewhere. Clowney is a great player but the Seahawks as a franchise can still be a top-10 team in the NFL without him.
9. Green Bay Packers
Is Ted Thompson back in town? Ricky Wagner and Christian Kirksey were the Packers' big signings in free agency. Unless Robby Anderson winds up in Wisconsin, this is going to be a bad offseason for the Packers. They've lacked the aggressiveness to become a real contender over recent years and this offseason is more of the same. They can't rely on rookie receivers to fix their offence. They need a lot more firepower than they currently have. It's that simple.
Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jones and Davante Adams with that defence will be enough to make them an above-average team.
10. Dallas Cowboys
Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper will return. Jason Garrett will not. Haha Clinton-Dix has been added, Randall Cobb has departed. Clinton-Dix is the most interesting move because he's a risk-taker in a way that Jeff Heath wasn't. Mike Nolan, the team's new defensive coordinator, may be about to implement a more aggressive scheme in Dallas. That would be a great development, though a tougher one to implement without Byron Jones playing outside.
The Cowboys have a lot of talent still. The concern is the same concern they've always had: Coaching. Mike McCarthy was just Jason Garrett in a jacket in Green Bay. He needs to be the new coach he's promising to be if the Cowboys are to reach their potential.
11. New England Patriots
Jarrett Stidham and Cody Kessler make up the Patriots' quarterback depth chart. Tom Brady didn't just leave, the Patriots are yet to actually replace him with anyone. There's not really anyone left either. A trade for Jacoby Brissett makes the most sense. With any other coach in the league, this roster wouldn't sniff the playoffs. With Belichick, you always assume the best.
12. Denver Broncos
Rookie Drew Lock played very well last season. A full offseason and full training camp as the starter will benefit him greatly. Lock has Melvin Gordon and Philip Lindsay to hand the ball off to now too. Defensively, the Broncos added Jurrell Casey to play inside of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. Behind them, A.J.Bouye joins the secondary. Even Graham Glasgow, a lesser-known name signed to play center, is a good move.
The Broncos are moving in the right direction.
13. Buffalo Bills
Josh Allen remains a major problem for the Bills. He improved in his second season but not enough to suggest he's ever going to be a competent passer. Allen's ball placement is horrendous, especially on deep throws, so Stefon Diggs' arrival likely won't have the expected impact. Outside of Allen, the Bills have an excellent team. It's how they reached the playoffs last season. Mario Addison will improve the pass rush and Josh Norman will fit perfectly, reuniting with his former defensive coordinator Sean McDermott.
14. Arizona Cardinals
Kyler Murray had an outstanding rookie season. He made typical rookie mistakes but was also supremely accurate. Kliff Kingsbury's system isn't anything revolutionary, but spreading the field out as much as he did makes the passing game more potent. David Johnson's departure won't hurt, while DeAndre Hopkins will thrive playing outside. Larry Fitzgerald has another good season in the slot and the defence continues to develop as a group.
15. Tennessee Titans
The Titans' hot streak from last season is unlikely to sustain into next season. Arthur Smith's scheme is too antiquated to sustain success, forcing Ryan Tannehill to make impossible throws on every drive. Tannehill won't continue to make those throws as often as he did last year, no quarterback sustains that level of play. That regression will come and the Titans don't have the individual talent to offset it.
16. Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons' 2019 season was bizarre. A team with proven talent was incapable of winning games. Todd Gurley's arrival won't have a huge impact, it's more important that the coaching staff improves and Matt Ryan gets in sync with his weapons. Defensively, Dan Quinn's unit has regressed in recent seasons. Adding Dante Fowler should help but they need their bigger names to rebound.
17. Houston Texans
Trading DeAndre Hopkins hurts the Texans on the field and will likely hurt the locker room. Deshaun Watson carried that team late in the season last year and he'll need to again this season. Only this time it's going to be a lot tougher to stay afloat.
18. Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders have finally landed in Las Vegas. Derek Carr remains the starting quarterback but Marcus Mariota is now lingering as his potential replacement. For some reason Jon Gruden targeted Cowboys cast-offs this offseason to improve the team. Hence why they rank 18th.
19. Minnesota Vikings
Extending Kirk Cousins, trading Stefon Diggs, cutting Xavier Rhodes, losing Trae Waynes, Everson Griffen, Stephen Weatherly and Linval Joseph. It's been all bad for the Vikings this offseason. A team that snuck into the playoffs and endured an awful performance against the 49ers in the Divisional Round is set for a big step back. Gary Kubiak taking over as offensive coordinator should make the offensive play-calling even better but Bisi Johnson isn't an ample replacement for Diggs.
This has been coming for Minnesota for a few seasons, and now they've extended the misery of Cousins' contract to afford Anthony Harris and Michael Pierce this offseason.
20. Carolina Panthers
Teddy Bridgewater is a better quarterback than most of his peers. The only concern is his health. He hasn't been a full-time starter for a long time. The Panthers are rebuilding but the offence has far too much talent to bottom out. D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel, Christian McCaffrey and Ian Thomas make a formidable skill position grouping. If Russell Okung stays healthy, the offensive line has high potential too.
Defensively, the Panthers have too many holes to be one of the better units in the league. Learning to win without Luke Kuechly leading everyone will be the first priority.
21. Chicago Bears
Nick Foles is not Chicago's saviour. Foles won a Super Bowl when he played for a dominant Eagles team. He's failed with the St. Louis Rams and with the Jacksonville Jaguars when signed to be a full-time starter. He couldn't keep his spot as the full-time starter in Philadelphia during both stints there either. Foles is a physically limited player who doesn't have the intelligence to offset his lack of arm strength. The Bears also signed Jimmy Graham, who will handicap the offence whenever he's on the field.
The Bears had one of the most promising rosters in the league two seasons ago. Now it looks like they're on course to enter a full-on rebuild in 12 months.
22. New York Giants
Daniel Jones' lack of arm talent limits how good he can be in the NFL. But if he throws the ball to defenders less often this season, the Giants have a chance to be consistently competitive. The Giants aren't making great moves, they're overpaying for average starters on defence. The roster has enough young talent on offence to avoid the bottom tier of the league.
23. Pittsburgh Steelers
Without Ben Roethlisberger last season, the Steelers purposely condensed their offence. It allowed them to win games on defence. Roethlisberger's return at this stage of his career will bring a more expansive offence. An offence that makes more mistakes and contributes too much to aid the opposition. For some reason, the Steelers decided to be the latest team that gets caught in the Eric Ebron trap. He and all his drops will be starting for Pittsburgh next season, adding to the errors expected on that side of the ball.
24. Cleveland Browns
Baker Mayfield can't be fixed by a new scheme. The Browns starter repeatedly abandoned plays last season by bailing out of the pocket prematurely. Even on simple plays Mayfield made too many mistakes. He'll continue to limit the effectiveness of the offense, despite the additions of Jack Conklin and Austin Hooper. Kevin Stefanski is another inexperienced head coach so leadership remains a concern in Cleveland.
25. Los Angeles Rams
Just two years ago the Rams were in the Super Bowl. That's how quickly things can change in the NFL. The Rams have lost important pieces on both sides of the ball over the last two offseasons, forcing Jared Goff into a position where he has to elevate everyone around him. Goff's career suggests he's incapable of doing such a thing.
26. Indianapolis Colts
Signing Philip Rivers to be your starting quarterback in 2020 is malpractice. Rivers can't physically throw the ball anymore. His passes float constantly and he relied heavily on Mike Williams, Keenan Allen and Hunter Henry to carry him last season. The Colts have one of the worst receiving corps in the league, which will expose Rivers' decline further. Instead of replacing the quarterback, the Colts should have continued to add premiere talent to the supporting cast.
27. Detroit Lions
Matt Patricia is building a retro-Patriots team. Danny Amendola, Danny Shelton, Jamie Collins, Duron Harmon and Trey Flowers have all made it through New England to land in Detroit. The Lions have made a lot of signings over recent years but none of been difference-makers. They have stockpiled average starters again this offseason.
28. New York Jets
The Jets are still trying to figure out if Sam Darnold can be their long-term starter. Darnold himself hasn't been good enough but the Jets also haven't put a capable offensive line in front of him. Le'Veon Bell remains their best player on offence, which is a major problem. The defence has centrepieces on the defensive line, at linebacker and in the secondary, but not enough quality strung through the rest of the unit.
29. Miami Dolphins
Winning games last season cost the Dolphins the chance to draft Joe Burrow. Tua Tagavailoa might be their pick instead. He won't be a Week 1 starter if he is. That means Ryan Fitzpatrick returns for another season of excitement and errors. The Dolphins are in a long-term rebuild that will gradually move toward 8-8. Overachieving last season may only lead to greater frustration from raised expectations this season.
Without a quarterback and with Trent Williams trying to find his way out, Washington lack talent at key positions to run an effective offence this season. Terry McLaurin is a star but he's alone on that offence. Ron Rivera's arrival will give the defence a boost. Washington has plenty of talent defensively. They're set up to make a quick turnaround if they find a quarterback soon. Who knows, maybe Dwayne Haskins works out.
31. Cincinnati Bengals
Joe Burrow's rookie season will bring excitement to Cincinnati. With A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, Auden Tate and Joe Mixon catching his passes, Burrow will have a productive rookie season. It's unlikely to lead to many wins though. Defensively, the Bengals are transitioning and a Geno Atkins trade could make sense at this point.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars
Not that they ever reached a height to fall from, but the Jaguars are openly tanking at this point. They've stripped their roster of all valuable parts, handing the keys to Gardner Minshew for a season of moustache fun.