The NFL draft is just a few weeks away, and the Atlanta Falcons have made the biggest splash with their trade to acquire Julio Jones. Who else has moved this offseason? We look at transactions since free agency opened on March 14th
The “nfl offseason moves 2021” is a blog post that discusses the NFL draft, free agency, and trades. The post discusses the impact of these events on the upcoming season.
From startling deals involving top-tier quarterbacks (and a certain big-name receiver) to big-money free-agent signings, the NFL has had a crazy two weeks. First-round choices in the 2022 NFL draft have changed hands, franchise needs have been addressed, and the league’s composition has been altered, most notably in the AFC West. And we’re still waiting for a slew of high-end free agents to sign, as well as another round of quarterback changes.
But what does all of this turbulence and mobility signify for the draft next month? What has changed as a result of the signings and trades over the last two weeks in terms of what we may anticipate when Round 1 begins? Will clubs use their first-round choices differently now that they’ve addressed their needs early in the offseason?
Matt Miller and Jordan Reid, NFL draft experts, looked at five important draft-related conclusions from free agency and the trade market, including how the wheeling and dealing influenced how Day 1 may go. Let’s start with what free agency has to say about one potential position for the 2022 class.
The NFL has high expectations for this year’s cornerback class.
Reid: J.C. Jackson and Carlton Davis were the two free-agent cornerbacks to watch, and both received excellent deals. Jackson signed a five-year, $82.5 million contract with the Los Angeles Chargers, while Davis returned to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for three years and $45 million. However, the cornerback market has been quiet outside of those two guys. Teams have been cautious to pay cornerbacks a lot of money. With talents like Ahmad Gardner (Cincinnati), Derek Stingley Jr. (LSU), and Trent McDuffie (Washington) all projected to be top-20 choices, the CB market’s sluggishness is understandable. This group is not just powerful in the first round, but it also has depth in the subsequent rounds.
Miller: Jordan, I couldn’t agree with you more. The New York Jets, for example, have added a terrific player in D.J. Reed, but they still have a lot of needs at cornerback. The New York Giants are one selection behind them at No. 5 overall, and after adding two offensive linemen in free agency, they might target cornerback in Round 1. Gardner, in my opinion, is the only true CB1 in this class, and it’s becoming more likely that he’ll be a top-five choice.
Reid: Gardner is the obvious leader for the CB1 place, according to both of us, following a distinguished career and a strong showing at the combine, but don’t overlook Stingley. At LSU’s pro day on April 6, all eyes will be on him. The most pressing concern about Stingley is his long-term viability. After a great rookie season, he has missed 15 games in the last two seasons, and his injury history is troubling to some clubs.
Miller: Yeah, what’s his 40-yard dash time going to be? We’ve both seen footage where he seems to be a top-five choice, but it’s from 2019. How much weight will teams place on this?
Reid: You named the Jets and Giants as teams to watch, but don’t overlook the Houston Texans, who are ranked third overall. That may sound a little early for a corner, but from what I’ve heard, clubs are really excited about this year’s group and will want to get in early. The Atlanta Falcons, Seattle Seahawks, Minnesota Vikings, and Philadelphia Eagles are just a handful of the numerous clubs in the top 20 that may be looking in this direction. On Day 1, as many as five cornerbacks might be picked, and there’s always the chance for some shocks.
Miller: You’ll have alternatives. Two prospective first-rounders from Washington, McDuffie and Kyler Gordon, sit behind Gardner and Stingley on draft lists. Some clubs may be concerned about McDuffie’s short arms, but I like his tenacity at the line of scrimmage and his ability to mirror and match in coverage. Gordon was anticipated to put on a show at the combine, but his 4.52-second 40-yard sprint was underwhelming, but his tape indicates a much more fluid defender. He still has a chance to be taken in the first 32 choices, in my opinion. Roger McCreary of Auburn, Andrew Booth Jr. of Clemson, and Kaiir Elam of Florida are among the other players to keep an eye on.
Aidan Hutchinson of Michigan is now the clear frontrunner to be the first overall pick.
Miller: As soon as the Jaguars earned the first overall choice in the 2022 draft, all indicators led to an offensive lineman arriving in town to cover second-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence’s blindside after he was sacked 32 times previous season. However, with the Jaguars’ franchise tag on left tackle Cam Robinson for the second straight season and the signing of five-time Pro Bowler Brandon Scherff at right guard, the new signs point to GM Trent Baalke and new coach Doug Pederson falling in love with Hutchinson, my top overall prospect in the draft.
At No. 1 overall, the Robinson franchise tag radically reshuffled the deck. The Jaguars’ most probable selections seemed to be offensive tackles Ikem Ekwonu (NC State) and Evan Neal (Alabama), but it now seems that the club will focus on defense. Jacksonville agreed to a three-year, $52.5 million agreement with Scherff, and it is liable for $16.6 million in Robinson’s tag.
Miller: Of course, the Jaguars might still surprise us — I’m old enough to remember the Blake Bortles choice — but it seems like Hutchinson and Ekwonu are the front-runners right now. Hutchinson is most evaluators’ top prospect because he addresses a significant need. Ekwonu, on the other hand, continues to pique my interest. If the Jaguars want to create a wall in front of Lawrence, they could pick Ickey to play right tackle or guard (he’s flexible enough) in the first round and then have him replace Robinson in 2023. And that’s a scenario the Detroit Lions should be rooting for at No. 2 overall, since it would allow them to choose Hutchinson.
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Miller: The battle for WR1 is undoubtedly intriguing, and I believe it will be decided as much by system fit as by receiver quality. But, as you said, Jordan, I don’t anticipate a strong early push for the job this season. Like may have been the case before last season’s injuries to London and Alabama’s Jameson Williams and John Metchie III, but it now seems that the first receiver off the board will be a double-digit choice. What the Green Bay Packers do to replace Adams, who was just dealt to the Las Vegas Raiders, is one trend I’ll be following. They could overhaul their wide receiver room with two first-round choices, but they haven’t picked a wide receiver in the first round in 20 years. Is this the year when Green Bay drafts a player like Arkansas’ Treylon Burks or Ohio State’s Chris Olave in the first round?
Reid: Packers GM Brian Gutekunst’s selection strategy will be put to the test. Over the last two decades, the Packers’ ideal sweet spot for receiving talent has been the second round. On Day 2, Adams, Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings, and James Jones were all chosen. Green Bay hasn’t drafted a wide receiver in the first round since Jared Walker in 2002, but Gutekunst may have to buck some of the franchise’s previous trends.
Miller: And, Jordan, the Packers aren’t the only playoff club in desperate need of a wide receiver. The Philadelphia Eagles (No. 19 overall), Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 20), New England Patriots (No. 21), Dallas Cowboys (No. 24), Buffalo Bills (No. 25), Tennessee Titans (No. 26), and Kansas City Chiefs (No. 30) could all easily choose a receiver in the first round. So, in addition to Wilson, London, and Williams, we should keep an eye on Olave, Burks, Jahan Dotson (Penn State), Christian Watson (North Dakota State), George Pickens (Georgia), and maybe Skyy Moore (Western Michigan) as late-first-round options, given the current wide receiver need.
Given that Adams earns $28.5 million per season and Christian Kirk can negotiate a four-year, $84 million contract on the open market, drafting receivers should become a far more appealing means of team building than signing free agents.
After free agency and trades, quarterbacks may plummet (even more).
Miller: The new league year started with a half-dozen clubs in need of a quarterback, but due to trades, many of those voids have been filled… or at the very least moved down the draft board. The Denver Broncos traded for Russell Wilson after owning the No. 9 overall selection. The Washington Commanders acquired Carson Wentz with the No. 11 overall selection in a trade. The Vikings signed Kirk Cousins to a contract deal at No. 12 overall. Mitchell Trubisky, the No. 20 overall pick, was signed by the Steelers.
As a result, there are fewer teams in need of a quarterback, and many of those that are will likely wait until Day 2 to handle the issue. This might be terrible news for Malik Willis (Liberty), Kenny Pickett (Pittsburgh), Matt Corral (Ole Miss), and the rest of the team.
Reid: The clubs in need of signal-callers were obvious to see in the months leading up to free agency. Spots are soon filling up. There are still other veterans on the free market, including as Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, who might fill some more places. Baker Mayfield is now available as a result of Deshaun Watson’s trade to the Cleveland Browns. Those onlookers will all take up more space. In the end, the NFL is showing its feelings on this quarterback class.
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Outside of quarterback, the 2022 draft class features depth at numerous positions, allowing clubs to make minor free-agent signings and then utilize their multiple first-round picks to acquire long-term starters early in the draft.
Miller: I view this as a scenario where these clubs are aware that a star free agent isn’t going to keep them from contending. The Jets were on the verge of having to spend because Douglas wants this club to progress, but the rest are either new GMs like Joe Schoen or long-time veterans like Howie Roseman and Brian Gutekunst.
The Eagles are betting on Jalen Hurts at quarterback and need three starters to surround him out of the first round. The Jets and Giants, who also encourage young quarterbacks, are in the similar boat. The Lions and Texans both have a lot of holes to address (Houston now has multiple Day 1 selections in each of the next three drafts to do so), and the Packers must justify the impact prospect deal they just made. These front offices are under pressure to leave April 28 with rookie starters.
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