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Charles Krupa/Associated Press
Though it often has the feel of eternal optimism for all, the NFL offseason hardly results in all 32 teams or the many players involved in some fashion emerging as winners.
More often than not, there is a balance between winners and losers. While some teams made amazing trades or moves in free agency, other teams had to lose those transactions or miss out on those players.
The most notable names on either end of the spectrum range from players and coaches in great situations to free agents still looking for jobs and teams dramatically headed in the wrong direction.
These are the biggest winners and losers of the offseason so far.
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Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
Has any rebuilder made as many strides as the Arizona Cardinals?
The Cardinals have finished .500 or worse four straight times, yet their arrow is pointing up in a tough NFC West after a brilliant offseason.
Arizona won over most with the DeAndre Hopkins trade, shipping away running back David Johnson’s contract in exchange for one of the game’s best receivers. Nuk, still just 28, casually put up 1,100-plus yards last year for the fifth time over his last six seasons.
On the other side of the ball, Arizona added Jordan Phillips to the trenches of an improving, Chandler Jones-led unit and used a top-10 pick on versatile weapon Isaiah Simmons.
Kyler Murray is coming off a successful debut in which he completed 64.4 percent of his passes with 3,722 yards and 20 touchdowns. Besides Nuk and Larry Fitzgerald, he’ll also have Kenyan Drake in the backfield after the running back’s breakout with 643 yards and eight scores on a 5.2 average over just eight games.
If the Cardinals were in another division, they might be favorites. Nonetheless, they are massive winners.
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Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press
Has any rebuilder made as many backward steps as the Jacksonville Jaguars?
The Jaguars team that sprinted to the AFC title game in 2017 is completely unrecognizable at this point, furthering the notion 2017 was a massive anomaly (that is its only season with a winning record dating to 2008).
Marcell Dareus, Jalen Ramsey and Calais Campbell are just a few of the names gone from that blip of an era, and star pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue wants out.
Clearly in a rebuilding mode, the Jacksonville front office was then all over the place in its approach to roster building. Spending the ninth and 20th picks on corner CJ Henderson and pass-rusher K’Lavon Chaisson, respectively, made sense. Throwing a massive five-year deal worth more than $50 million at linebacker Joe Schobert in free agency (who earned a 59.1 grade at Pro Football Focus last year), not so much.
Maybe worst of all, Gardner Minshew II is not in a good position to succeed, which could mean the team is back to searching for an answer under center sooner rather than later, too.
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Charles Krupa/Associated Press
It’s hard to name a better landing spot than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for Tom Brady in the twilight of his career.
The Bucs’ excellent receiver corps is headlined by Mike Evans, who put up 1,157 yards and eight scores over 13 games a season ago.
Why stop with Evans? Chris Godwin had a massive 2019 over 14 games, posting 1,333 yards and nine touchdowns. Don’t forget one of the NFL’s better tight end depth charts, too, with Cameron Brate, O.J. Howard and Rob Gronkowski.
It really doesn’t get much better for Brady, whose arrival instantly improves a Buccaneers team that mustered seven wins with Jameis Winston starting last year. The line in front of him is boosted compared to last year, too, thanks to No. 13 pick Tristan Wirfs.
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Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press
The 2020 offseason has been a rough ride for Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien, both in the public perception department and in roster and team direction.
Losing DeAndre Hopkins via trade stands out, of course. Willfully shipping away a top-10 wideout is never going to accepted by a wider audience unless something unexpected happens on the field.
O’Brien added receivers Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb, a pair of underwhelming adds who combined for just five scores with neither hitting 1,000 yards a season ago. The offense also added running back David Johnson via the Nuk trade, a running back who hasn’t been nearly as effective since his monster 2016 season.
None of those moves beef up an offensive line that coughed up 49 sacks last year, and the defense lost D.J. Reader this offseason. Keep in mind O’Brien didn’t have a draft pick to work with until the second round this year.
While O’Brien struggled with roster construction this offseason, Philip Rivers arrived in Indianapolis and the Tennessee Titans remained steady after making the AFC title game last year. The Texans will have their hands full in the AFC South.
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Tom Brady might be a big veteran quarterback winner, but arguably no developing passer had a better offseason than Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock.
Lock, a second-round pick a year ago and John Elway’s latest attempt at finding a franchise quarterback, got in five games and completed 64.1 percent of his passes with 1,020 yards and seven touchdowns against three interceptions.
He did that with only one receiver who had more than 600 yards (Courtland Sutton) and an offensive line that allowed 41 sacks.
Fast forward to today. Lock gets to throw to No. 15 pick Jerry Jeudy and speedy second-round pick KJ Hamler. Behind him in the backfield is free-agent arrival Melvin Gordon III, who scored eight times over 12 games last year and joins Phillip Lindsay to form a formidable one-two punch.
With Joe Flacco gone and the front office clearly all-in on giving Lock high-upside weapons to grow with, the 23-year-old sits pretty as a big winner.
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Chris Szagola/Associated Press
Jadeveon Clowney remains a free agent and one of the more perplexing cases of the last so many years.
Clowney is a heavyweight name, but he hasn’t been able to find a home after spending last year in Seattle and appearing in 13 games.
That’s why the positional designation of Clowney’s franchise tag in the past has come under scrutiny and probably helps to explain why he’s still a free agent despite being a premier defender looking for what should be a massive long-term deal at the age of 27.
Now it’s June, and the teams willing to pay up big are strapped for cap space. ESPN’s Brady Henderson, for example, reported Clowney would have to take “significantly” less money than what Seattle previously offered him for a reunion.
A big part of free agency for a player or team is timing and reading the market. Clowney appears to have misread it. The Clowney saga could continue well into the summer.
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Charles Krupa/Associated Press
The offseason might not have gone exactly as planned for the Miami Dolphins, but that sure doesn’t disqualify the franchise from the winners short list.
Miami might’ve wanted Joe Burrow, according to ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio, but standing pat in the top five and getting Tua Tagovailoa is still a big win for the long-term outlook of the franchise.
Later addressing premium positions with offensive tackle Austin Jackson (No. 18) and cornerback Noah Igbinoghene (No. 30) reflected an efficient team-building strategy.
Speaking of team-building strategy, Miami put the tanking-created cap space to work by landing free agency’s best corner, Byron Jones. The front office also got Kyle Van Noy, a former New England Patriots defender coached by Brian Flores who should help build the culture and produce. Even a value signing like Ereck Flowers boosts the prospects of the offensive line after his quiet breakout as a guard in Washington last year.
Will the moves lead to instant returns in the win column? Maybe not—but few franchises took a smarter approach to the offseason than the Dolphins, and it happened to occur at the same time a void opened up in the AFC East from the departure of Tom Brady.
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Ben Margot/Associated Press
The offseason game of musical chairs at quarterback ended, and surprisingly, a former MVP was left out in the cold.
Cam Newton’s time with the Carolina Panthers came to an end this offseason as the franchise gave the keys to Teddy Bridgewater.
But it was a little hard to see this coming. Newton, after all, is still just 31 years old and one of the more dynamic quarterbacks in the league. As recently as 2018, over 14 games he had completed 67.9 percent of his passes with 24 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, with another 488 yards and four scores on the ground.
And yet every team with a vacancy seemed to go in a different direction. New England appears content with Jarrett Stidham in a post-Brady world. Cincinnati and Miami grabbed rookies. Indianapolis signed Philip Rivers. The Los Angeles Chargers will have a competition between Tyrod Taylor and Justin Herbert, and the Chicago Bears traded for Nick Foles, who will challenge Mitchell Trubisky.
At this point, Newton is open to serving as a backup “in the right situation,” according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. It’s a startling departure from the norm for a quarterback so talented, and while we probably haven’t seen the last of Newton as a starter in the NFL, this offseason hasn’t been kind to the 2015 league MVP.