Training camps are open and most of the off-season wheeling and dealing is in the books.
For us, the 2018 NFL season can’t begin soon enough, judging by all the new, and some old, players in new places.
Buffalo and Cleveland, two teams in constant flux looking for any kind of spark, completed the most recent official trade, with the Browns sending WR Corey Coleman to the Bills for a seventh round pick in 2020.
Coleman, a first rounder in 2016, was largely disappointing in two seasons with the Browns and was deemed expendable enough to ship him out for such a low pick. Maybe he’ll get his act together in Western New York, maybe not.
There many other traded players, free agent signees and some surprise draft choices who could have an impact with new clubs this fall.
Here is each team’s most significant new acquisition, with honorable mentions in italics after.
Arizona Cardinals – QB Sam Bradford
The Carson Palmer era in the desert has come to an end. Will this be Sam Bradford’s time? There are a few similarities to Palmer’s and Bradford’s career trajectories. One being the fact both were in need of a career reset at the time they were acquired by the Cards. Bradford, 30, isn’t quite as old as Palmer was in his first season with Arizona (33), but his career was stalled last season with injury, limiting him to just two games. Prior to that, Bradford had two straight seasons of 3,700 or more yards with Philadelphia and Minnesota, throwing for 39 touchdowns against 19 interceptions. He was good in his two lone starts of the 2017 campaign, hitting 32 of 43 passes fro 382 yards and three TDs (no interceptions). At minimum, he’ll be a good role model for new pivot Josh Rosen. Honorable mentions: QB Mike Glennon, Rosen, OT Justin Pugh, WR Christian Kirk.
Atlanta Falcons – WR Calvin Ridley
There might not be a better mentor to have in the NFL — especially if you’re a young wide receiver — than Julio Jones. First round pick Calvin Ridley, a star at Alabama, was taken 26th overall and is slotted in as no. 2 behind two-time First Team All-Pro Jones. Depending on how he is used, Ridley, who amassed 2,781 receiving yards and 19 TDs in 44 college games, will be another asset that Matt Ryan can fling passes to. He ran a 4.43 40-yard dash at the combine, demonstrating his elite speed, which in tandem with his outstanding route running ability makes him a true deep threat. Of course, he’ll have to adjust to NFL defensive schemes, but with a mentor like Jones, the kid should improve game over game. Honorable Mention: G Brandon Fusco.
Baltimore Ravens – WR Michael Crabtree
Baltimore had one of the worst passing offences in 2017, finishing 29th overall with just 3,030 yards overall. It wasn’t Joe Flacco’s fault, given that he didn’t have a slew of pass-catching weapons at his disposal. Free agency, though, has a way of providing manna from heaven, this year in the guise of free agent wideout Michael Crabtree. Despite not hitting the 1,000 yard mark like he did in 2016 with Oakland, Crabtree still managed to snare the same number of TD passes (8) on 618 yards receiving as he did the year previous (with 1,003 receiving yards). He was signed to a three-year, $21 million pact to replace Mike Wallace. In addition, the Ravens inked new starter John Brown, late of the Arizona Cardinals, for one year at $5 million. Honorable Mentions: QB Lamar Jackson, Brown and QB Robert Griffin III.
Buffalo Bills – DE Trent Murphy
Not many NFL rosters underwent as complete an overhaul as that of the Bills this off-season. There are so many new faces on both sides of the ball they’re hard to keep track of. Considering how terrible they were overall on defence, we picked one defender we think will have a positive impact. If he can remain healthy, former Washington Redskins defensive end Trent Murphy may be able to keep opposing quarterbacks in check, or pressure them enough that the Bills don’t give up boatloads of passing yards and TDs. In his last full season before a severe knee injury that killed his 2017 season, Murphy recorded 9.0 sacks in 16 games, none of them starts. He also had 46 tackles, three forced fumbles and one pass defence in a very good 2016 campaign with the Redskins. Murphy signed for three years and $22.5 million. Honorable Mentions: QB Josh Allen, LB Tremaine Edmunds and DT Star Lotulelei.
Carolina Panthers – WR Torrey Smith
From a statistical perspective, the trade Carolina orchestrated with the champion Philadelphia Eagles to get WR Torrey Smith might seem like a small one. He caught just 36 passes for 430 yards and two TDs with the Eagles in 2017, but, he is a two-time Super Bowl champ who has risen to the occasion in the playoffs. After his so-so regular season, Smith hauled in 13 passes in three playoff games, for 157 yards and another score. His addition to the receiving corps can’t come at a better time, since only four teams had fewer passing yards last year than the Panthers (3,077). Giving star QB Cam Newton some veteran hands is a wise move, as the team also brought in Minnesota reserve WR Jarius Wright, who also augmented a mediocre regular season (198 yards, two TDs in 16 games) with a better performance in two post-season contests (six catches, 107 yards). Honorable Mentions: DT Dontari Poe, S Da’Norris Searcy, WR D.J. Moore, CB Donte Jackson.
Chicago Bears – WR Allen Robinson
When the Bears opened the vault for star wide receiver Robinson, they were probably hoping they got the 2015 version and not 2017 Robinson, who saw action in just one game and caught one pass. Basically, the Bears sacrificed $42 million over three years in hopes that Robinson has a season more like his Pro Bowl year of 2015, when he caught 80 passes for a career high 1,400 yards and a NFL high 14 TDs. Or, that he splits the difference and is somewhere between 2015 and 2016, when he had 73 catches for 883 yards and six TDs. Sophomore QB Mitch Trubisky will need all the help he can get to kickstart the NFL’s worst passing attack from 2017 (just 2,811 passing yards) and moribund offence (16.5 PPG, or fourth worst in the NFL). Honorable Mentions: WR Taylor Gabriel, LB Roquan Smith, C James Daniels and TE Trey Burton.
Cincinnati Bengals – OT Cordy Glenn
Prolonging the career of QB Andy Dalton, and that of new back-up Matt Barkley, was an off-season priority for the Bengals. In 2017, three-time Pro Bowler Dalton was sacked 39 times, which was sixth most in the NFL and only a year removed from being taken down 41 times. Enter Buffalo OT Cordy Glenn via a draft day swap with Buffalo that can only have positive implications for Dalton and Barkley. Glenn, who cost the Bengals a 12th overall pick in this year’s draft, as well as $11.25 million in salary this year. He, along with Ohio State C Billy Price (taken 21st overall), should help solidify a fairly porous Bengals front five. The only issue with six-year veteran Glenn has been his health, as he missed 15 games the last two years, after playing 48 in a row the three seasons previous. Honorable Mention: TE Tyler Eifert.
Cleveland Browns – WR Jarvis Landry
Another year, another off-season of upheaval in Cleveland. The Browns, who were dead last at 0-16 in 2017, have nowhere to got but up and made a whole lot of noise in the off-season, from the draft, to free agency and trades. So, who to choose from the many new faces in training camp this summer? Well, they were the lowest scoring team in the NFL last season, so picking wide receiver Jarvis Landry is a relative no-brainer. Whether he has Tyrod Taylor, Drew Stanton or no. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield throwing passes his way, Landry improves their offence measurably. The four-year vet just failed to reach the 1,000 yard plateau for the third time in a row in 2017, but he did lead the NFL in receptions with 112 and logged 987 yards with a career high nine touchdowns. Honorable Mentions: Mayfield, CB Denzel Ward, RB Nick Chubb, OT Chris Hubbard, CB E.J. Gaines, CB T.J. Carrie.
Dallas Cowboys – LB Leighton Vander Esch
We have no issue with a Cowboys offence fronted by QB Dak Prescott, RB Ezekiel Elliott and newly acquired WR Allen Hurns. However, Dallas was mediocre against the pass last year and not near good enough defensively overall, which makes the drafting of huge LB Vander Esch out of Boise State at 19th overall very key. Vander Esch, the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year in 2017, was all over the field, propelling his considerable bulk (6’4″, 256 lbs.) with considerable speed. He finished his last year of college ball with 141 tackles (fifth in the FBS), four sacks, two interceptions, five pass deflections and a team leading four forced fumbles. He was just the third linebacker taken in the draft, ahead of Rashaan Evans of Alabama, no less. Honorable Mention: Hurns and WR Deonte Thompson.
Denver Broncos – QB Case Keenum
We will admit that we weren’t very impressed with the Broncos writing free agent QB Case Keenum a blank cheque and asking him to fill it in. The Broncs signed the Vikings playoff hero to a fat, two-year, $36 million deal to solve a revolving door at quarterback. Since Peyton Manning was in charge, right up to the championship 2015 season, the Broncs have used three different pivots. And none of Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch had any real effect, as Denver hasn’t been to the post-season since and were a dismal 5-11 in 2017. Now, Keenum was superb for Minny in 2017, throwing for 3,547 yards, 22 touchdowns (just 7 INTs) and a 98.3 rating. He got the Vikings to the NFC championship and for that, was rewarded richly by Denver. It will be his job to be a leader on what has been a rudderless offence. Honorable Mentions: DE Bradley Chubb, OT Jared Veldheer, LB Todd Davis and WR Courtland Sutton.
Detroit Lions – LB Devon Kennard
Detroit was pretty terrible defensively in 2017 and this off-season they got busy filling in some sore spots. One fairly big fish in the free agent pool was New York Giants LB Devon Kennard, who escapes the woeful Giants for a fresh start in the Motor City. He signed a three-year, $18.75 million deal to anchor the weak side linebacker position on a defence that was sixth worst against the pass in 2017 (3,892 yards against) and just 18th against the run (1,800 yards against). Kennard is good on the rush and was fourth in QB sacks for the Giants last year with four. He also registered 41 tackles in 15 games (11 starts), along with two pass deflections. Kennard, 27, had an undisclosed injury at the beginning of training camp, but is practicing now. Honorable Mentions: RB LeGarrette Blount, LB Christian Jones, CB DeShawn Shead and C Frank Ragnow.
Green Bay Packers – TE Jimmy Graham
Superstar pivot Aaron Rodgers is back to full health and already challenging the status quo at practice, saying the effort level from receivers — in the wake of the release of Jordy Nelson — has to be better and not exactly in those terms. However, outside of decent wideouts in Randall Cobb and Davante Adams, Rodgers has an excellent new target in five-time Pro Bowl tight end Graham. The Pack inked him to a three-year, $30 million contract to fill a gaping void. The 31-year-old did not have an outstanding third season with Seattle in 2017, but neither was it unproductive. He caught 57 passes for 520 yards and 10 touchdowns, the fourth such season he has had 10 or more. At worst, he presents a sure-handed option for Rodgers to check down to. Otherwise, he is a premier red zone threat with outstanding hands and the ability to get open. Honorable Mention: CB Jaire Alexander, QB DeShone Kizer, DL Muhammad Wilkerson, CB Tramon Williams.
Houston Texans – OG Zach Fulton
Deshaun Watson is back after missing nine games in his rookie season with a torn ACL. The Texans, wanting to protect their prized quarterback, have taken steps to mitigate contact on him. He was sacked 19 times in seven games last year (six starts), which if extrapolated would have equated to about 41, or around fifth most in the NFL. The signing then, of beastly guard Zach Fulton can’t be understated. The Texans handed four-year veteran Fulton, formerly of the Kansas City Chiefs, a four-year $28 million contract ($13 million guaranteed) to keep opposition defenders away from Watson. The Tennessee product missed just one game in his first 64 in the league. Honorable Mentions: OT Seantrel Henderson, OG Senio Kelemete, CB Aaron Colvin and FS Tyrann Mathieu.
Indianapolis Colts – TE Eric Ebron
It seems as if Andrew Luck has been gone a lot longer than just one season. The Colts star QB is finally back in action after surgery to repair a torn labrum in January 2017 derailed an entire season. GM Chris Ballard has given Luck some nice new targets, the most intriguing of who is former Detroit Lions TE Eric Ebron. The four-year veteran inked a two-year pact that can max out at $15 million with incentives. He played all 16 games with the Lions in 2017, starting nine and registering 53 catches for 574 yards and four touchdowns. Now, those numbers weren’t earth-shattering, but the Colts and running routes for Luck represent a nice fresh start. In addition to Ebron’s signing, the Colts also nabbed emerging WR Ryan Grant from Washington. Honorable Mentions: DL Denico Autry and OG Quenton Nelson.
Jacksonville Jaguars – OG Andrew Norwell
The Carolina Panthers weren’t ready to make Andrew Norwell the second highest paid offensive guard in the NFL, so the Jags ponied up. A starter in the last two of his first four seasons who just got better and better, Norwell represents a marked improvement in a Jaguars O-line that helped open up enough holes for the team’s rushers to lead the NFL in yardage with 2,262. As well, starting QB Blake Bortles was only sacked 29 times last year (19th in the league), so that number could drop significantly, too. Norwell, undrafted out of Ohio State, had to prove himself as a premier lineman and by the end of his fourth season, he was rated 88.8 out of a score of 100 by Pro Football Focus, a huge uptick from his initial rating by the NFL of 51.2. Honorable Mention: WR Donte Moncrief, DT Taven Bryan and CB D.J. Hayden.
Kansas City Chiefs – WR Sammy Watkins
Given the so-so season that Watkins turned in for the L.A. Rams, we’re not certain that the Chiefs handing him a three-year deal for $48 million, $30 million guaranteed, was the wisest thing to do. And it’s not all based on his obvious gifts as a receiver, but rather his ability to stay healthy. In four seasons, including three with Buffalo, Watkins has missed 12 games. In the 52 games he has played, all but one a start, Watkins has totaled 3,052 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns. When healthy, he represents a better-than-average red zone threat for young quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who takes the reins for the departed Alex Smith. Honorable Mentions: QB Chad Henne, P Dustin Colquitt, LB Anthony Hitchens, CB Kendall Fuller.
Los Angeles Chargers – K Caleb Sturgis
There is a pretty good battle going on in Chargers camp this summer and it involves the team’s two kickers. Yes, that’s right, we said kickers. Newly signed Caleb Sturgis, signed away from Philadelphia for two years and $4.45 million, and former Tampa Bay second round pick Roberto Aguayo (reserve contract) have been going toe-to-toe, so to speak. Sturgis has the upper hand, in that he has been around the league for five seasons and has the stats to back up his contract. The only drawback is the fact he missed all but one game of the 2017 season, but did go 3-for-3, with a field goal in each of the top three ranges (30-39 yards, 40-49 and 50+). Career-wise Sturgis got better year over year, and owns a career efficiency percentage of 81 percent. To underscore the importance of having a reliable boot, four different Chargers kickers in 2017 combined to hit 20 of 30 attempts, the worst percentage in the NFL. Honorable Mentions: C Mike Pouncey, S Derwin James and TE Virgil Green.
Los Angeles Rams – CB Marcus Peters
The Rams’ defence was just OK last season, hence why an offensively gifted club lost in the wild card playoffs to the Atlanta Falcons. Well, there were so many new faces brought in, either through trades or free agency, it was hard to pick just one. It is a feather in the cap for former Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters (obtained in a trade) that we selected him over newcomers DT Ndamukong Suh (free agent) and CB Aqib Talib (trade with Denver). Peters, in three seasons with Kansas City, was a pick machine, logging 19 interceptions and leading the NFL in interception return yards (280) and interceptions (8) in his rookie season. In his three campaigns Peters also registered 151 tackles, five forced fumbles and 55 pass deflections. Peters was the 2015 Defensive Rookie of the Year, a two-time Pro Bowler and a First Team All-Pro. Honorable Mentions: Talib, Suh and WR Brandin Cooks.
Miami Dolphins – S Minkah Fitzpatrick
The Dolphins made some high profile free agent signings this off-season, especially on offence. However, the contracts thrown at former Chiefs WR Albert Wilson (three years, $24 million) and former Patriots wideout Danny Amendola (two years, $12 million) just seem like window dressing. Yes, Miami needed a boost offensively, but, meh. One newcomer we see making a difference is high profile draft pick, S Minkah Fitzpatrick. The Alabama standout was the second defensive back taken in the 2018 draft at 11th overall and the rumored plan for the versatile safety is for him to occupy several different positions with the Fish. Under Nick Saban at ‘Bama, Fitzpatrick played just about every position in the defensive secondary, including a little linebacker. Honorable Mentions: Amendola, Watson, OG Josh Sitton and DE Robert Quinn.
Minnesota Vikings – QB Kirk Cousins
The Vikes, and their fans, got a good taste of winning football in 2017. They had their best season in nearly 20 years, going 13-3 and making the NFC Championship, losing to eventual Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia. Thus, with regular season and divisional playoff hero Case Keenum gone to Denver, and the departures of former starter Sam Bradford (Arizona) and Teddy Bridgewater (Jets), the Vikings needed a new pivot. And did they get one, making Kirk Cousins the second highest paid (average) in the NFL. The prolific passer put his signature to a massive three-year, $84 million contract that is fully guaranteed. His production with Washington over the last three seasons warranted it, with over 13,000 yards passing (4,917 in 2016), 81 touchdowns and just 36 interceptions. Honorable Mentions: QB Trevor Siemian and DT Sheldon Richardson.
New England Patriots – WR Cordarrelle Patterson
For former first round pick Cordarrelle Patterson, a trade from Oakland to passing powerhouse New England represents career redemption. Drafted 29th overall my Minnesota in 2013, Patterson’s five-year career was inconsistent as a receiver and sometime running back, but outstanding as a kick returner (hence two Pro Bowl inclusions). As a receiver/rusher, Patterson had 2,079 all-purpose yards in 80 games, with 1,625 in the air and 454 on the ground, including 13 touchdowns. Patterson ran back 153 kicks in those 80 games, for 4,613 yards and five touchdowns, three of them for over 100 yards. He was the most prolific kick returner in three of his five seasons so far and owns a career yards/return of 30.2. We see a marked increase in his receiving yards this season. Honorable Mentions: OT Isaiah Wynn, RB Sonny Michel, RB Jeremy Hill, WR Jordan Matthews, DE Adrian Clayborn and DT Danny Shelton.
New Orleans Saints – CB Patrick Robinson
The biggest news out of New Orleans this off-season was the re-signing of superstar QB Drew Brees. The Saints handed him a lucrative two-year, $50 million contract to keep flinging passes past age 40. However, New Orleans didn’t need to reinvent the wheel offensively, so the signing of former Philadelphia Eagles CB Patrick Robinson is noteworthy. The Saints sputtered defensively in 2017 and if they hope to return to the post-season and get further than the division finals, they need to improve on the other, less sexy side of the ball. Robinson, who returns to the team that drafted him 32nd overall in 2010, is coming off one of his best seasons as a pro. He started eight of 16 games for the Eagles, recording 45 tackles, his second career sack, 18 pass deflections and four interceptions. In the playoffs last year for champion Philadelphia, he had five tackles in three games, as well as a pick six against Minnesota in the NFC championship game. Honorable Mentions: WR Cameron Meredith, DE Marcus Davenport, LB Demario Davis.
New York Giants – RB Saquon Barkley
As much as the Giants were horrible defensively last year — and they have made strides to improve there — they weren’t anything special on offence, either. Thus, taking Penn State superstar running back Saquon Barkley at no. 2 overall was not a difficult choice. The versatile back rolled up 1,903 combined yards in 13 games for the Nittany Lions in 2017, scoring 21 touchdowns. Barkley also returned 14 kick-offs for 423 yards and two more scores and putting the icing on the cake was 2-for-2 passing for 36 yards and a TD. The kid can do it all and in tandem with veteran free agent acquisition Jonathan Stewart (ex of Carolina, signed for two years), should give Eli Manning plenty of options out of the backfield. Honorable Mentions: Stewart, OT Nate Solder, OG Patrick Omameh, LB Alec Ogletree, LB Kareem Martin and OG Will Hernandez.
New York Jets – QB Sam Darnold
There was a ton of oxygen consumed by on-air personalities trying to argue out just which star college quarterback would be taken highest at the 2018 NFL draft. As it turns out, the Jets may have gotten a steal at no. 3 with USC product Sam Darnold. Word out of training camp so far is that he has shown the Jets he is still a master at improvisation and cool under pressure, while having some trouble with deep balls against pro defensive backs. He is battling seasoned professionals in free agent Teddy Bridgewater and Josh McCown, but so far no one is a lock as the Jets starter — and neither should they be. What makes Darnold so attractive are his numbers with the Trojans in his sophomore season. In 14 games, he completed 303 of 480 passes for 4,143 yards and 26 TDs, against 13 interceptions. It’s going to be interesting to see how the QB battle pans out. Honorable Mentions: Bridgewater, RB Isaiah Crowell, LB Avery Williamson, CB Trumaine Johnson.
Oakland Raiders – WR Jordy Nelson
It wasn’t a complete overhaul in Oakland this off-season, but the Raiders sure were busy. After a disappointing 2017 campaign, GM Reggie McKenzie came out swinging, signing no less than 22 new and existing players. The prize among the newbies just might be former Packer Nelson, a Pro Bowler and one of Aaron Rodgers’ favorite targets for many years. With Brett Hundley throwing the majority of passes for the Packers last season, Nelson’s productivity suffered, with just 53 catches for 482 yards and six touchdowns. This, after a 2016 season that saw him haul in 97 passes for 1,257 yards and a league-leading 14 TDs. In fact, his 2017 campaign broke a string of three straight seasons of 1,000 or more yards receiving. He’ll be a prime target for QB Derek Carr in 2018. Honorable Mentions: RB Doug Martin, OT Kolton Miller, LB Tahir Whitehead, CB Rashaan Melvin, SS Marcus Gilchrist.
Philadelphia Eagles – DE Michael Bennett
What, if anything did the Eagles need to do in the wake of a huge Super Bowl triumph? Well, get even better on defence, it seems. A team that was just 17th against the pass, but first against the run (only 1,267 yards allowed) and fourth in points against added a premier edge rusher in former Seahawks DE Bennett. The owner of 54 career sacks and 302 tackles in nine seasons was dealt to Philly with a seventh round draft choice for wide receiver Marcus Johnson and a fifth round pick. What is troublesome about Bennett’s arrival, though, is an impending court date in Texas for allegedly injuring a paraplegic worker at Super Bowl LI in 2017. The Eagles could sorely use the numbers he posted in 2017 with Seattle, including 40 tackles, 8.5 sacks and a pass deflection in 16 starts. Honorable Mentions: WR Mike Wallace, DT Haloti Ngata and CB Daryl Worley.
Pittsburgh Steelers – S Morgan Burnett
The Steelers were one of the least active teams in the free agent and trade market, opting not to spoil the mix. They were strong offensively and defensively, so a minor tweak to the defensive backfield was made in the guise of Green Bay veteran safety Morgan Burnett. A fixture in the Seahawks secondary for seven seasons, the versatile Burnett logged 717 tackles, 7.5 sacks, eight forced fumbles, nine interceptions and 46 pass deflections in 102 games, all starts. What made him even more attractive to Steelers brass was his collective playoff experience. In 11 post-seasons starts, the Georgia Tech product registered 64 tackles, 2.0 sacks, five passes defended and two interceptions. He was signed for the relatively inexpensive sum of $14.5 million over three years. Honorable Mentions: S Terrell Edmunds and LB Jon Bostic.
San Francisco 49ers – CB Richard Sherman
As much as we like the free agent signing of versatile RB Jerick McKinnon and C Weston Richburg on offence, Sherman brings the most swagger, talent and intensity to a 49ers defence in dire need of a leader. Untethered from a leaking Legion of Boom in Seattle, Sherman may be starting version 2.0 in the Bay Area. However, a pre-season hamstring injury isn’t a good sign, which will cause the three-time All-Pro to miss San Fran’s first pre-season match. He didn’t come at an astronomical cost to the Niners, signing on the dotted line for three years and $27.15 million. After playing in all 96 games his first six season in Seattle, Sherman was out for seven contests in 2017. He was still solid, recording 35 tackles, seven pass deflections and two interceptions. Honorable Mentions: McKinnon and Richburg.
Seattle Seahawks – RB Rashaad Penny
He may have played in a second tier FBS conference in Mountain West with San Diego State, but there is no denying that new running back Rashaad Penny can flat out play. Drafted 27th overall by the Seahawks, Penny represents a backfield threat on a rebuilding team that hasn’t had that kind of talent since Marshawn Lynch and his Skittles left town. With the Aztecs in his senior year, Penny led all FBS rushers with an astounding 2,248 yards in 13 games, scoring 23 touchdowns. He also caught 19 passes for another 135 yards and two TDs. For that he was named consensus All-American and MWC Offensive Player of the Year. The second running back taken behind Saquon Barkley in this year’s draft, Penny might turn out to be a huge steal. Honorable Mention: LB Barkevious Mingo and TE Ed Dickson.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – DE Jason Pierre-Paul
Anyone following the Bucs in 2018 will need a program, especially where the defensive front four in the team’s base 4-3 defensive scheme. Of the eight first and second string tackles and ends, there are five new faces, including first round pick, DT Vita Vea, who is penciled in as starting right tackle. The man we will focus on, though, is former New York Giants star and elite edge rusher Pierre-Paul. He was traded to the Buccaneers with a fourth round pick for a third and fourth rounder this year. The man who has taken plenty of social media flak for a bizarre fireworks injury gets to reset in a rebuilt Tampa defence and is coming off a fairly solid year that saw him register 68 tackles, 8.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and five pass deflections in his first full season since 2014. Honorable Mentions: Vea, TE Cameron Brate, DE Vinny Curry, DT Beau Allen and DT Mitch Unrein.
Tennessee Titans – CB Malcolm Butler
Tennessee made great strides last season, making the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and going to the divisional playoffs, only to lose to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. In that 35-14 loss, Brady shredded the Titans’ defensive secondary for 337 yards on 35-of-53 passing and three touchdowns. The Titans took that loss squarely on the nose and in the off-season got to business doing something about it. The big name coming in, coincidentally, was Pro Bowl CB Malcolm Butler, of those same Patriots. He was his usual good self in 2017, registering 60 tackles, a sack, three forced fumbles, 12 pass defences and two of his eight career interceptions. Butler was inked to a five-year, $61.25 million pact. Honorable Mentions: RB Dion Lewis, LB Harold Landry and LB Rashaan Evans.
Washington Redskins – QB Alex Smith
Alex Smith is no Kirk Cousins. There we got that right out of the way. He’s older by a little over four years and hasn’t thrown for as many yards or touchdowns in the last three seasons as former Redskin Cousins, but he is still top shelf NFL quarterbacking talent. Acquired from Kansas City for Kendall Fuller and a third round draft pick, the 34-year-old Smith was then signed to a four-year contract extension worth $94 million. He may well be worth it, coming off his best season since debuting with San Francisco in 2005. He threw for career highs in completions (341), completion percentage (67.5 percent), yards (4,042) and touchdowns (26). One of the most accurate throwers in the NFL, Smith was picked off just five times for a league low interception rate of 1.0 percent. His 104.7 rating was tops among all signal callers in the 2018 season. Honorable Mention: WR Paul Richardson, DT Daron Payne and LB Pernell McPhee.