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What We’ve Learned About Every NFL Team So Far in 2022

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    An NFL team’s journey can vary. One may be short and sweet. Another may be a direct line to its preferred destination. Others may be forced to take a Lord of the Rings-like fellowship toward Mordor before it finally wins the one ring.

    The Los Angeles Rams finally grabbed its precious championship for the second time in franchise history when Aaron Donald and Co. hoisted the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the 2021 campaign. General manager Les Snead and head coach Sean McVay forsook high-round draft picks and instead splurged on high-profile veterans.

    No one is relevant immediately. Each organization must find its own path. It’s all about being the cat that is copied, not the copycat.

    Every team took a different approach this offseason to find the best way forward for its particular situation. A few happened to be one or two pieces away from pushing for a championship. Others made bold moves in free agency or via trade to change course. Some even took a couple of steps back before seeing which direction they’ll head.

    Whatever the case may be, quarterbacks drove most of these decisions, as always. And that’s where this particular tale begins.

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    Set Number: X163910 TK1

    Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray isn’t happy. He wants a new deal since the window to negotiate an extension during his rookie contract opened this offseason.

    The drama between the two sides started earlier in the year when the 24-year-old scrubbed his social media of all team references, and his agent issued a lengthy statement about wanting a new deal.

    Murray’s online activity prompted a report from ESPN’s Chris Mortensen in which those within the organization described the quarterback as “self-centered, immature and a finger-pointer.” Meanwhile, Murray felt he was being “framed as the scapegoat” after the Cardinals’ disappointing postseason appearance.

    The quarterback skipped the first portion of organized team activities before reporting to the team.

    Eventually, a deal between the two parties is likely to occur. The Cardinals should understand that Murray isn’t easily replaceable as one of the most exciting, young talents at the game’s most important position. At the same time, concerns are clearly present within the organization.

    The Cardinals already picked up Murray’s fifth-year rookie option. They have time to see how he handles the situation and grows into a leadership role.

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    After pursuing a Deshaun Watson trade, the Atlanta Falcons chose to move the franchise’s all-team leader passer, Matt Ryan, to the Indianapolis Colts.

    “It’s hard to say, but I think honestly it’s more than likely I would’ve probably still been there if circumstances had been different,” Ryan admitted during an interview on the Ryen Russillo Podcast. “But I’m excited with where I’m at.”

    In doing so, the organization incurred the largest dead cap hit in NFL history at $40.5 million, per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero.

    With one move, the Falcons entered a rebuilding phase. The veteran quarterback masked deficiencies and helped the team to a 7-10 record last season. Now, Atlanta will rely on free-agent addition Marcus Mariota or rookie Desmond Ridder to lead the offense and is therefore expected to be in contention for the 2023 No. 1 overall pick.

    To be fair, the Falcons aren’t without talent. Tight end Kyle Pitts is an ascending superstar, while Grady Jarrett is one of the game’s best interior defenders. A.J. Terrell is an elite cover corner, and Jake Matthews is a reliable left tackle. Plus, this year’s eighth overall draft pick, Drake London, should help create even more mismatches in the passing game.

    Even with a few cornerstones in place, though, the Falcons don’t currently have an answer behind center and have too many question marks elsewhere among the lineup.

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    The Baltimore Ravens offense is built around quarterback Lamar Jackson, and the team has experienced plenty of regular-season success with the 2019 league MVP behind center.

    Yet Jackson hasn’t reported to the team this offseason since he’s looking for a contract extension, and the team continues to go about its business by implementing new wrinkles into its offensive scheme.

    “We kind of went back and changed some things and added some things,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman told reporters last week. “There are definitely some things that are new. There are also a bunch of things that he’s pretty well-adjusted to—probably 80 percent stuff he knows, 20 percent stuff that we look forward to working on.”

    Jackson won’t just need to learn the new portion of the playbook, though, as he must also establish a comfort level with his new top wide receiver, Rashod Bateman. The Ravens chose to trade the quarterback’s second-favorite target, Marquise Brown, to the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for a first-round draft pick. The team hasn’t added anything substantial to the position since then.

    “All respect due to [Brown], and I’m going to miss him because he’s my brother, but it was like, it’s my time,” Bateman said during an in-house interview on the Ravens’ Studio 44. “I feel like Baltimore drafted me for a reason. They drafted me to be in this position.”

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    The Buffalo Bills claimed the league’s No. 1 defense last season yet identified two key areas in need of improvement.

    First, the unit lacked explosivity off the edge. Over the last few seasons, the Bills relied far too heavily on aging veterans on the downside of their careers or young, less athletic defensive ends.

    Von Miller may be 33 years old, but he can still get after it, if his play during the Los Angeles Rams Super Bowl run is any indication. The Bills signed Miller to a six-year, $120 million contract this offseason, and general manager Brandon Beane told reporters at the NFL Combine the thought process behind the signing.

    “We could have gone less on the D-line and said, ‘Hey, we’ll stick with what we have here on the D-line and maybe go target a higher-end corner, too,'” he said. “But it just felt like this was the best path, and hopefully, it’ll prove to be the right move.”

    Beane’s mention of potentially investing in a corner before the draft tipped his hand, even if listeners didn’t know it at the time.

    The Bills wanted to get bigger, fast and more athletic opposite Tre’Davious White. They did just that when Beane chose Kaiir Elam (6’2″, 191 pounds) with the 23rd overall pick in this year’s draft.

    Buffalo’s defense now has the pieces to be even better than it was a year ago.

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    What are the Carolina Panthers waiting for?

    The organization made a quarterback upgrade its primary focus. It’s now June, and it still hasn’t adequately addressed the position.

    The Panthers weren’t serious contenders for Russell Wilson. The team failed to land Deshaun Watson. Matt Ryan wasn’t going to be traded within the division and only wanted to play for the Indianapolis Colts anyhow. The quarterback carousel is winding down, and the Panthers have yet to find a veteran replacement for Sam Darnold.

    To be fair, the organization did trade up in the third round to select Ole Miss’ Matt Corral. At this point, the acquisition means little other than hoping a lottery ticket pays dividends.

    Darnold could be the team’s starting quarterback for a second straight season if the franchise decides not to aggressively pursue Baker Mayfield or Jimmy Garoppolo, which seems to be the case.

    As of last week, “no substantive moves” occurred toward a Mayfield deal, according to CBS Sports’ Josina Anderson. Carolina previously discussed a trade with the Cleveland Browns and would have taken on $4-5 million on Mayfield’s $18.9 million salary this season, according to the Charlotte Observer’s Jonathan M. Alexander.

    Clearly, the Browns are trying to build some type of leverage in negotiations, though they have none at the moment. Even so, the Panthers should strike a deal to get their quarterback in town so he can learn the offense, work with teammates and upgrade the position.

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    Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles needs to remember that actions speak louder than words.

    “We’re all in on Justin [Fields]. I believe in Justin. Our coaches believe in Justin,” Poles said during a radio interview on Chicago’s ESPN 1000 (h/t ESPN’s Courtney Cronin). “Like I said from the beginning, we’re going to set him up to succeed.”

    But the team hasn’t. In actuality, the Bears have done the opposite. The quarterback’s supporting cast is suspect, and that’s putting it nicely.

    Wide receiver Darnell Mooney, running back David Montgomery and tight end Cole Kmet showed promise early in their careers. At the same time, none of them should be considered difference-makers that defenses must account for at all times. Beyond Mooney, the Bears have next to nothing at wide receiver. The team’s offensive line remains in flux, too.

    Instead, the organization primarily spent its offseason assets on the defensive side of the ball. Defensive lineman Justin Jones signed the team’s biggest free-agent deal. The franchise also used its first two draft picks on cornerback Kyler Gordon and safety Jaquan Brisker.

    Chicago may have plans to eventually build around Fields and treat him like an actual franchise quarterback. But Poles and Co have failed in that regard thus far.

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    The sight of quarterback Joe Burrow crashing to the ground while Ja’Marr Chase broke free down the sideline at the end of Super Bowl LVI should be seared into the members of the Cincinnati Bengals and its fanbase for all time.

    The situation was of the team’s own making. Yes, Aaron Donald is an all-time great and the top defender of his generation.

    Yet everyone knew the Bengals didn’t do enough last season to properly protect Burrow, even after the 2020 No. 1 overall pick sustained a season-ending knee injury during the previous campaign.

    Cincinnati didn’t make the same mistake twice. The organization spent most of its offseason upgrading its weakest unit.

    Ted Karras, Alex Cappa and La’el Collins signed free-agent deals with the Bengals. Their inclusion should solidify the entire right side of the offensive line. With those veteran additions, the Bengals can do more on offense.

    “I’m going into (training camp) expecting that we can kind of open it up a little bit and maybe throw some things in there we weren’t able to do last year and the year before,” Burrow told Geoff Hobson of the Bengals’ official site. “We have a really good core group of plays that we know really well and we’re good at, so we’re not going to abandon that.”

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    The Cleveland Browns felt they could do better at quarterback than Baker Mayfield after his injury-plagued and disappointing campaign last year. An opportunity arose to trade for Deshaun Watson once a grand jury declined to indict the 26-year-old on criminal charges stemming from 10 complaints from women accusing him of sexual assault or misconduct.

    Cleveland general manager Andrew Berry traded three first-round picks, a 2023 third and ’22 and ’24 fourth-round selections to the Houston Texans for the quarterback. As part of the agreement, the Browns handed Watson the largest guaranteed contract in NFL history at $230 million over five years.

    The amount of draft capital spent and financial investment in the player shows how committed the Browns were to landing a franchise quarterback in his prime. They did so with knowledge of pending civil cases—which now stands at 24, with the Houston Texans organization being implicated as well—and no idea of length pertaining to a possible league suspension.

    Either the Browns knew what they were getting themselves into with hopes of everything eventually blowing over, or those in charge are incompetent and didn’t do the proper research on a situation that seems to get worse by the day.

    Whatever the case, the Browns have their quarterback, even if he doesn’t play this fall depending on the league’s eventual determination. Mayfield isn’t the short-term solution, either, since he’s demanded a trade and the team excused him from mandatory minicamp.

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    As former front office executive Andrew Brandt recently stated during an interview on The Pat McAfee Show, “[The salary cap] is not fake, but there’s a loophole within the cap system … where you can do proration. Proration is the magic for teams that are struggling with the cap.”

    Eventually, everything catches up to teams as they push those numbers into the future. The Dallas Cowboys experienced those issues this offseason.

    Currently, the Cowboys have four contracts at or exceeding $84 million in total value. Quarterback Dak Prescott, running back Ezekiel Elliott, left tackle Tyron Smith and right guard Zack Martin are all counted among the top four highest-paid players at their respective positions.

    The Cowboys were $12 million over the salary cap prior to the start of the new league year, and they were forced to make a handful of moves just to balance the sheet.

    First, the team traded wide receiver Amari Cooper to the Cleveland Browns for a fifth-round pick and a swap of sixth-round selections. Prior to making the move, the Cowboys signed Michael Gallup to a five-year, $57.5 million contract extension to cover their bases at the position.

    Dallas released right tackle La’el Collins and couldn’t re-sign wide receiver Cedrick Wilson Jr., guard Connor Williams, linebacker Keanu Neal and safety Damontae Kazee. The organization also botched Randy Gregory’s re-signing, and the edge-rusher instead chose to join the Denver Broncos.

    The Cowboys are talented, but they’re struggling to become a legitimate Super Bowl contender despite the amount of money they’ve spent on their stars. In doing so, Jerry Jones has less financial flexibility to finagle the team’s roster.

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    While an ownership change for the Denver Broncos may be a bigger leaguewide story, the organization’s acquisition of quarterback Russell Wilson changes the entire trajectory of the on-field product.

    The Broncos haven’t had a high-level starter behind center since Peyton Manning retired in 2016. Denver jumped at the chance to acquire Wilson for a pair of first-round picks, two second-round selections, a fifth-round pick, quarterback Drew Lock, defensive lineman Shelby Harris and tight end Noah Fant.

    The Broncos are now Wilson’s team, and he’ll get his chance to cook.

    “I think it’s all about just the command of the system,” head coach Nathaniel Hackett told reporters at last month’s organized team activities.

    “We want to build this thing completely around him and make sure he’s comfortable, and watch him come alive. … I think there were a lot of good things, and we’ve just got to keep on developing that and just the integration of the system, and his feel with the rest of the team. How he is with the other guys—wide receivers, tight ends, and just get those guys all on the same page.”

    Denver became an intriguing landing spot because of the surrounding talent. Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick and Jerry Jeudy give Wilson a talented trio of wide receivers. Albert Okwuegbunam and Greg Dulcich are athletic options at tight end, while Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon III form a strong running back tandem.

    With Wilson leading the way, the Broncos can become a major factor in the AFC, even in the conference’s loaded western division.

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    Aidan Hutchinson is now the face of the Detroit Lions franchise, and the organization is treating him as such.

    “We’re altering kind of what we do defensively,” head Dan Campbell told reporters at the combine. “We’ll be a little more of a fourth-down (linemen) type, if you will.”

    Hutchinson can play from a three-point stance and even drop into space on occasion. But the Lions chose him with this year’s second overall pick for two reasons. First, he’s a consistent disruptive force in the backfield. Last season, the Ted Hendricks Award winner set a Michigan Wolverines program record with 14 sacks. Second, he’s a culture-changer, which became evident during his time in Ann Arbor.

    “I told my wife this last night, I was like, ‘You know what’s great about him is he’s quietly getting better right in front of us,'” Campbell told reporters Thursday. “He doesn’t say anything, he listens, he’s like a sponge in there, he absorbs the information, watches how things are done and the way coaches want them done, and then he’s got a motor, and he goes.

    “He just learns, and gets better every day, and you see it.”

    The Lions have consistently been one of the league’s worst at accumulating sacks over the last three seasons, finishing in the bottom seven each time. Detroit addressed the situation with Hutchinson’s selection. The organization is subsequently doing the right thing by building around him.

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    The Green Bay Packers front office finally caved and gave Aaron Rodgers pretty much everything the quarterback wanted.

    What else could general manager Brian Gutekunst and the rest of the team’s brain trust do?

    Since Gutenkunst selected Jordan Love with the 26th overall pick in the 2020 draft, Rodgers won back-to-back league MVP awards and signed the most lucrative deal on an annual basis in NFL history.

    Rodgers should now have a say, albeit not a deciding factor, in the team’s personnel and the level of commitment he always wanted from the organization. However, a decision to keep Rodgers throughout his twilight years into his retirement does create ripple effects.

    Davante Adams’ desire to play for the Las Vegas Raiders had never been a secret. At the same time, the money invested in Rodgers and his age (38) played a role in Adams asking for a trade.

    “[Rodgers and I] talked throughout the whole process,” Adams told reporters. “He was aware of where I stood, and I was aware of where he stood. And we had talks. Just like what he said the other day, we had talks about his future and what he thinks his duration in Green Bay or just football in general would look like.

    “And that played into my decision as well because where I am in my career—and this isn’t a shot at any other quarterbacks in Green Bay. I love Jordan Love especially, he’s a great guy. But I’ve got aspirations of doing really, really big things and being remembered. And it just wasn’t really a point in my career that I was willing to sacrifice Aaron not being there after a year or two. So my decision was to be here, and he respected that, he understood that.”

    An all-time great will finish a career where it started. But the franchise’s decision to give Rodgers what he wants will have positive and negative effects over the next few seasons.

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    Who are the building blocks for the Houston Texans franchise?

    Wide receiver Brandin Cooks turns 29 later this year. Offensive tackles Laremy Tunsil and Tytus Howard and edge-rusher Jonathan Greenard only have one year remaining on their deals beyond this season. Then, there’s…um…how about?…well…no one.

    Obviously, this year’s top draft picks aren’t included since they’ve yet to play a down. Derek Stingley Jr., guard Kenyon Green, safety Jalen Pitre and wide receiver John Metchie III are basically the ground floor to what’s become a multi-year rebuild.

    General manager Nick Caserio knows this and shows it through his actions. Houston signed 20 free agents this offseason. All but six are one-year deals, and none of them extend beyond two seasons.

    Furthermore, the franchise still doesn’t have an answer at the game’s most important position. Instead of wading into this year’s shallow pool of quarterback talent, the Texans will give Davis Mills another year to prove himself.

    “Every day we’ve opened up the building, he’s been in here,” head coach Lovie Smith told reporters last month during organized team activities. “He’s our quarterback. When you’re the leader, you’ve got to be visible. It’s been documented on what I think of Davis. I think he’s going to be an excellent quarterback in the NFL for a lot of years, but it’s about this year.

    “Having a year, he and [offensive coordinator] Pep Hamilton getting on the same page with our offense, and him being in a role from the start, that’s different also. But that’s what you do. You have a chance for him to establish himself as one of our primary leaders each day.”

    Maybe the Texans can actually start building toward something next year.

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    Since Chris Ballard took over as the Indianapolis Colts’ general manager five years ago, the organization has been meticulous in its offseason approach. The group rarely wins the offseason by outpacing other teams, particularly at the start of the new league year.

    “We’ve got good players out of free agency, and we’ve been successful,” Ballard said on The Athletic Football Show (h/t the Indianapolis Star‘s Jonathan X. Simmons). “We’re just not the biggest fans of right out the gate free agency where you’re paying B players A-plus money, which is gonna affect down the line. … There’s a cost to that.”

    The Colts did make one splashy signing in 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore, though the cornerback didn’t agree to a deal until April 15.

    Indianapolis’ biggest moves came via trade when the franchise acquired quarterback Matt Ryan and defensive end Yannick Ngakoue. The former came to fruition after Ballard and Co. chose to cut bait with Carson Wentz, even though the team didn’t have a plan at quarterback upon his trade to the Washington Commanders. Fortunately, Ryan became available.

    “Lucky, blessed, whatever you wanna call it,” head coach Frank Reich said. “We’re very thankful that Matt became available.”

    The team’s tortoise-like approach also paid dividends during the NFL draft. The Colts—who didn’t have a first-round pick—traded back in the second frame and still landed wide receiver Alec Pierce to play opposite Michael Pittman Jr. Indianapolis also added tight end Jelani Woods and left tackle Bernhard Raimann in the third frame despite outstanding athletic profiles. Both could be big contributors in Year 1.

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    Urban Meyer’s tenure turned out to be an absolute disaster for the Jacksonville Jaguars organization.

    Ultimately, Meyer’s mistreatment of kicker Josh Lambo proved to be the final straw. But Meyer clearly didn’t know how to handle an NFL locker room or develop professional talent. Last year turned into a lost season, particularly for No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence.

    Lawrence has the potential to be counted among the league’s best quarterbacks if he’s given the right direction. Doug Pederson’s resume speaks for itself as a former NFL quarterback and Super Bowl-winning head coach.

    “I think you can always tell the way a coach communicates with a quarterback because he’s been in my shoes,” Lawrence told reporters during organized team activities. “Quarterback’s an interesting position. It’s not a big rah-rah, chew somebody out. I mean, you have some coaches that are like that, but for me, that’s just not what I need.

    “I can have a conversation, and Coach Pederson’s great about that. At every play, he gives you a piece of feedback that another coach might not give you just because he knows what it’s like, and it’s something little that he might see that someone else doesn’t see.”

    Lawrence’s development serves as the throughline for the entire organization. His maturation into a franchise quarterback (or not) will define whether the Jaguars finally pull themselves out of the downward spiral they’ve endured since an AFC Championship Game appearance five years ago.

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    The Kansas City Chiefs know the offensive will look different without Tyreek Hill in the lineup. But the unit can remain quite effective without the NFL’s fastest man.

    “That’s what you’re going to see with this offense this year. It’s going to be everybody. It’s not all going to be one guy,” quarterback Patrick Mahomes told reporters two weeks ago. “Obviously [Travis Kelce] is still going to get a lot of completions, a lot of yards, but the whole receiving room is going to have big days, and that can be something we use to our advantage.

    “It’s a very deep receiving room. It’s hard to tell which guys are going to make it because we’ve got so many good receivers. That’s what you want. You want that competition. You want guys competing every single day to make the roster because they’re going to help us in the end.”

    Obviously, Hill is a special talent and one of the game’s best wide receivers. Even so, the Chiefs still have the game’s best quarterback, the league’s best receiving tight end and multiple targets capable of winning outside the numbers.

    The organization signed JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling as free agents. General manager also added Western Michigan’s Skyy Moore in this year’s second round. Plus, Mecole Hardman remains on the roster.

    “Mecole has the speed like a Tyreek had. Different player but like what Tyreek had,” head coach Andy Reid said. “He gives you a nice skill set there with the speed and quickness and ability to run when the ball is in his hands. He’s a very aggressive runner when the ball is in his hands. You find ways to do that in a variety of different ways.”

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    Josh McDaniels wasn’t ready to take over an NFL when he became the Denver Broncos head coach at 32 years old. During his failed tenure, McDaniels learned he didn’t need to be a taskmaster.

    Instead, McDaniels realized the NFL is a relationships business during his return to the New England Patriots.

    “You compare [Denver] with now, I know what my role is,” McDaniels told Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer. “So I can be the head coach. I will be the play-caller, but I don’t have to be the general manager, I don’t have to be the director of pro personnel, I don’t have to be the quarterback coach, I don’t have to be the offensive coordinator, I don’t have to be the special teams coach.

    “That lesson that I learned, and it was the biggest one I learned, is the one thing I’d say we’re doing the best job of right now. No question. I’m not pulled 100 different directions. And, again, in Denver, it wasn’t anybody’s fault but mine.”

    The second-time head coach also understands he’s not Bill Belichick, and his players don’t expect him to be.

    “This is something totally different,” Raiders running back Brandon Bolden, who played eight seasons with the New England Patriots, told reporters. “Josh is going to put his own spin on things. Is it a few things that we learned along the way because I was there with him a lot of the time? I mean, sure. But we’re not trying to be New England. We’re not trying to be like New England. We’re the Las Vegas Raiders, and that’s what we’re going to play as.”

    At 46, McDaniels now appears comfortable in his own skin as the leader of an entire organization, though he knows he has to do it his way and with help from others.

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    Quite simply, the Los Angeles Chargers were soft at the point of attack last season. In order for Brandon Staley’s defensive approach to work, the organization had to overhaul its defensive front.

    “With [Staley’s] scheme, it’s about being strong at the point [of attack],” defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day told reporters in March. “You have to have strong hands and be heavy-handed, but also, you have to be intelligent and be able to read what you see, read formations, sets, see keys, backfield sets, tips and stuff like that. I was able to learn that and be able to thrive in it, thanks to Staley, since he taught it to us. I think that’s just why it’s a perfect fit.”

    Joseph-Day just so happens to be one of the defenders the Chargers acquired to make the scheme work. He followed Staley to the Chargers after previously serving as his nose tackle with the Los Angeles Rams. He’ll be joined along the interior by Austin Johnson, who also signed as a free agent.

    While those two will strengthen the middle of the Chargers’ defense, Los Angeles added a pair of difference-makers in outside linebacker Khalil Mack and cornerback J.C. Jackson.

    Mack provides the team with a secondary pass-rusher opposite Joey Bosa. The 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year is also one of the league’s best at setting the edge.

    Jackson, meanwhile, can serve as an eraser. The former undrafted free agent led the NFL over the last two seasons with 17 interceptions. When the defensive scheme inevitably forces opposing quarterbacks into a bad decision, the 26-year-old cornerback can make them pay.

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    The Los Angeles Rams are ready to run it back after winning Super Bowl LVI. But the franchise had to keep its two biggest stars happy before that became a legitimate possibility.

    All-world defensive lineman Aaron Donald became the most pressing issue since the possibility of retirement loomed if the two sides didn’t reach a new deal. Donald agreed to a reworked three-year, $95 million contract that makes him the highest-paid defender on an annual basis in NFL history.

    “It wasn’t important,” Donald said of hitting a specific numerical threshold. “It’s about other things off the field that were going on in my life that I had to get situated. And being here, with an organization that I’ve been with since Day 1, that I grew with, became a world champion with. I’m ready to try to run it back and create that whole feeling all over again.

    “It’s about winning for me, and the pieces are here for that to come to fruition. And for me to be a piece to the puzzle and to be here right now, it’s a blessing.”

    Two days later, wide receiver Cooper Kupp, the reigning Super Bowl MVP, signed a three-year, $80 million contract extension.

    “All the stuff on the business side, we can trust the organization to be a place that’s going to take care of you,” Kupp told reporters. “They’re going to be able to step in. There’s going to be a respect there and understanding that that stuff’s going to work itself out. So we’ve got a lot of guys who take the right approach mentally to be the best versions of themselves first and let the business side of things kind of work themselves out.”

    These moves are good business practices. First, the Rams didn’t let anything fester. Second, others see how the franchise operates and likely want to play there.

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    All quarterbacks are under immense pressure. In Miami, the Dolphins Tua Tagovailoa faces a different kind of scrutiny. The 2020 fifth-overall draft pick sits in the unenviable position of having to live up to what classmates and fellow top-10 quarterbacks Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert already achieved in their first two seasons. So far, Tagovailoa hasn’t been up to the task.

    He’s also been in what was arguably the worst situation, but that’s no longer the case. The Dolphins are now stacked with offensive talent under the watchful eye of new head coach Mike McDaniel.

    Among the offseason’s biggest moves, the Dolphins acquired speed merchant Tyreek Hill from the Kansas City Chiefs. Hill left a situation where he played alongside Patrick Mahomes. Even so, he likes what he’s seen of Tagovailoa.

    “I just feel like football is all about confidence, and I’m very confident in my quarterback,” Hill told reporters. “So I just feel like if I’m able to help him get all the confidence in the world and push other guys to push that confidence into him, then the sky’s the limit for the guy because he’s a heck of a talent, has crazy arm strength, arm talent.

    “We’re all excited just to watch him sling the ball each and every day.”

    But the Dolphins went beyond the Hill acquisition, fortifying the offensive line with the free-agent additions of left tackle Terron Armstead and interior lineman Connor Williams. Cedrick Wilson Jr. also gives the team a capable third receiver alongside Hill and Jaylen Waddle.

    The “Tua: No More Excuses Tour” begins in earnest this fall.

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    The Minnesota Vikings hired Kevin O’Connell as their new head coach, in part, because of his background as an offensive coach and former NFL quarterback. As such, he’s expected to implement a new offense to modernize the Vikings’ approach.

    A tinge of irony exists in O’Connell revamping an offense built on the bedrock of the Mike Shanahan outside zone scheme while coming from a system and under a coach, Sean McVay, whose NFL background stems back to what he learned under…wait for it…Mike Shanahan.

    To be fair, new wrinkles and adjustments have been made over the last decade. The base plays can remain the same while looking completely different from the overall approach. Plenty can be achieved through different looks, pre-snap movement and a little smoke and mirrors.

    “We’re doing a lot of things that are simple for us, but maybe a little bit more difficult for a defense to defend,” O’Connell told reporters in February.

    “That illusion of complexity where teams think that there’s a lot of offense that they’re defending, but really we’re only doing small details here and there just to change the picture, change angles, give ourselves an advantage wherever we see fit, both in the run game and in the pass game, using tempo as a weapon. Things that people have seen our offense do in L.A. that they will absolutely see our offense do here in Minnesota.”

    The first-time head coach is tasked with elevating Kirk Cousins into a top-tier quarterback, featuring running back Dalvin Cook and creating opportunities for wide receivers Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. O’Connell’s background indicates he’ll continue to build on what was already in place.

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    Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

    The New England Patriots earned plenty of leeway in regards to how they operate after winning six championships over the last 20 years. Bill Belichick and Co. aren’t infallible, of course, and the luster of a previous dynasty seems to be fading rather quickly.

    But Belichick is still the best at what he does, and he doesn’t care what anyone thinks when it comes to the team’s decision-making process.

    Case in point, the Patriots chose offensive lineman Cole Strange with this year’s 29th overall pick. Generally, Strange was viewed as a mid-round talent. Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay burst out laughing upon seeing the selection, though the reaction could be misinterpreted in that the Rams, who didn’t have a first- or second-round pick, wasted time even doing the work on him.

    “He’s long, he’s athletic, he’s physically tough, he’s an aggressive player. I think he has a good combination of skills—run and pass, movement, length, strength, again, all of which will I think hopefully get better, like they will with any player coming from college to the National Football League,” Belichick explained.

    Strange could very well become the next Logan Mankins. How he’s coached is somewhat in the air as well. New England doesn’t currently have offensive or defensive coordinators. Former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia may even call offensive plays.

    “I think at the end of the day, he’s just a really good coach,” safety Devin McCourty said of Patricia. “Obviously a ton of knowledge across the board, and I think even being in Detroit and being a head coach expands your knowledge of what you need to know from a specific teams, offense, defense, the morale of the team. Like, everything you’d have to do to be a head coach, I think he now adds that.”

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    Sean Gardner/Getty Images

    While the NFC won the last two Super Bowls, the AFC is a far stronger conference based on overall depth and talent. As such, teams that may be viewed as weaker in the NFC remain well-positioned to become a playoff squads this fall. The New Orleans Saints are a prime example.

    Sean Payton retired as head coach after 15 seasons at the helm. The organization promoted defensive coordinator Dennis Allen to the position. The franchise also re-signed Jameis Winston, who played well last season until he suffered a torn ACL and sprained MCL in a Week 8 contest against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    Also, the Saints didn’t re-sign free agents Terron Armstead and Marcus Williams. But as the Saints always do, they find ways to make moves.

    Tyrann Mathieu signed a three-year, $28.3 million deal to join his hometown team and pair with fellow free-agent addition Marcus Maye to revamp and upgrade the safety position. Wide receiver Jarvis Landry also returned to his roots on a one-year, $3 million deal.

    Furthermore, general manager Mickey Loomis traded up in the first round to draft Ohio State wide receiver Chris Olave and acquired a second opening-round selection from the Philadelphia Eagles to address left tackle with Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning.

    Clearly, the Saints aren’t worried about rebuilding and believe they can win now. Considering the league’s current landscape, New Orleans certainly can, with the Los Angeles Rams, Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers being the conference’s only top-tier squads.

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    Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    The New York Giants’ current brain trust of general manager Joe Schoen and head coach Brian Daboll already seem far more capable than the previous regime.

    Under previous general manager Dave Gettleman, the Giants drafted a running back with the second overall pick and Daniel Jones with the sixth overall pick. Those two moves alone have set back the franchise since Saquon Barkley has been injured and Jones hasn’t developed.

    Free agency proved to be a bigger bust, with players such as Nate Solder, Golden Tate, James Bradberry, Kyle Rudolph and Kenny Golladay (so far) not working out in the team’s favor.

    The Giants didn’t splurge in free agency this year. Instead, the organization chose to make modest investments in its offensive line to improve one of the league’s worst units. Mark Glowinski and Jon Feliciano should help solidify the offensive interior. The approach continued into the draft when the Giants chose Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal with this year’s seventh overall pick.

    Neal wasn’t the Giants’ first pick, though. New York stayed in the defensive trenches by choosing Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux with the fifth overall pick. Bleacher Report’s Scouting Department ranked Thibodeaux as the class’ No. 1 overall prospect. In fact, B/R had Thibodeaux and Neal as the top two options.

    Generally, these types of moves aren’t sexy, yet they’re vital to on-field success. The Giants appear to be building a strong foundation under their new leadership after multiple years of personnel mistakes.

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    Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

    The New York Jets will go as far as Zach Wilson takes them. To streamline and maximize the second-year quarterback’s potential, the Jets have done two things to make his life easier.

    Too many voices were in the rookie’s ear last season. The Jets had Wilson’s personal quarterback coach, John Beck, on the payroll. Senior offensive assistant Matt Cavanaugh was with the team, too. Now, neither is part of the staff, and quarterbacks coach Rob Calabrese is the main point of contact for the quarterback.

    “In the second half of the year last year, when we had all the different coaches in there, it was really Rob who was the lead voice,” head coach Robert Saleh said, “and you see this year a lot more confidence, a lot more conviction. Him and [offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur] having more conversation, obviously it’s more one-on-one—I don’t know if streamline is the word, but it’s more focused, I guess you could say.

    “Because of it, I think when you have one voice, and obviously Mike in there too, but when you’re limited in that regard, you’re confident because exactly what was said and how you can either expand on it or fix what was said.”

    A better supporting cast will help as well. The Jets drafted wide receiver Garrett Wilson with this year’s 10th overall pick.

    “He definitely has the skills, the toolset and definitely the mindset to be great,” Zach Wilson said of his new rookie target.

    The team also selected Breece Hall near the top of the second round, and he should enter the lineup as RB1.

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    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    The Philadelphia Eagles proved they were a year ahead of schedule when they went to the postseason during Jalen Hurts’ first full season as a starter and Nick Sirianni’s first season as a head coach.

    As such, the Eagles entered this offseason in an envious position with a solid roster, some salary-cap space and a wealth of draft capital. General manager Howie Roseman took advantage and built the best surrounding cast possible.

    On draft day, the Eagles decided to use one of their first-round picks to acquire 24-year-old wide receiver A.J. Brown. The 2019 second-round pick already posted a pair of 1,000-yard campaigns and signed a four-year, $100 million contract extension.

    Brown’s inclusion to lineup creates a cascading effect throughout an entire passing attack since the Eagles now have a true WR1. DeVonta Smith should now get more opportunities with coverage often rolled in Brown’s direction. Zach Pascal, another new addition, can serve as the team’s third or fourth receiver, depending on Jalen Reagor’s development. All of these weapons are going to help in Hurts’ development.

    “I’m noticing a big difference [in Hurts this offseason],” Sirianni told ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio (h/t Tim McManus). “What I see is a crisper ball. The accuracy I’ve been very pleased with. You can just see him taking strides every single day with his accuracy because of the fundamentals he has with his feet and his upper body.”

    Good complementary football should appear in Philadelphia since last year’s 10th-ranked defensive unit added edge-rusher Haason Reddick, defensive tackle Jordan Davis, linebacker Nakobe Dean and cornerback James Bradberry.

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers somehow swerved everyone by doing exactly what everyone thought they would do.

    Wait, what?

    Obviously, the Steelers desperately searched for a quarterback throughout the entire predraft process. Yet Kenny Pickett wasn’t considered the favorite to become the Steelers’ next franchise quarterback. Multiple reports of the team’s supposed fondness for Malik Willis surfaced during the league’s lying season.

    Head coach Mike Tomlin trekked the entire quarterback throwing session circuit prior to the draft and had dinner with each of the prospects. Ultimately, Pittsburgh settled on the in-house option when it chose Pickett with the 20th overall pick.

    The franchise now moves into the post-Ben Roesthlisberger era with Picket eventually leading the way. The fact the team kept its card close, stayed patient and landed its favorite quarterback prospect deserves kudos.

    However, the AFC North is loaded. Rookie or not, Pickett is the fourth-best quarterback in the division with a former league MVP in Lamar Jackson, a former No. 1 overall pick, who already helped lead his team to a Super Bowl, in Joe Burrow and the Browns’ Deshaun Watson, whose 24 civil lawsuits accusing him of sexual assault or misconduct may lead to a suspension before he can take the field.

    Pickett and the Steelers are fighting an uphill battle after decades of divisional dominance. Pickett could become the 2022 NFL Rookie of the Year, and Pittsburgh could still finish dead last in the division.

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    Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Jimmy Garoppolo remains on the San Francisco 49ers’ roster, but the team now belongs to Trey Lance.

    “I feel like Trey has done a really good job in really taking on all the different parts of being QB1,” fullback Kyle Juszczyk said at 49ers minicamp. “I feel like I’ve seen improvement on the field as far as his performance. We’ve seen a lot of big plays out there. As a leader I just feel like he’s stepped up. He’s just a very natural leader, a guy that people gravitate towards. It’s all been good so far.”

    Lance stepped back last season after being the third overall draft pick and learned while Jimmy Garoppolo started 15 games. He needed the time after playing only 19 games at an FCS program with a miniscule 318 career passing attempts.

    Yet the 49ers still decided to trade up to the third overall pick before selecting Lance. They did so because his athleticism and natural arm talent provide Kyle Shanahan’s scheme with a higher ceiling than it ever had with Garoppolo behind center.

    Now, the second-year signal-caller is truly getting the opportunity to show off what we can do.

    “Trey has done an outstanding job. Each day, Trey has gotten better and better and better,” defensive coordinator Demeco Ryans said. “We’re proud of where he is right now. Defending him has been tough. He is putting the ball on the money every time he throws it. The accuracy is there. The deep ball is there. Whatever he wants, he can zip it in there and make a lot of plays. I’m excited for Trey and what he can do. He’s setting himself up to have a really good season for us.”

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    Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

    The Seattle Seahawks are going back to the future.

    “It’s the challenge, it’s the excitement, it’s the newness,” Carroll told Mike Salk of Seattle Sports radio in March (h/t Liz Mathews of USA Today‘s Seahawks Wire). “The sense of the return to the core of where we began putting things together, where we really were wide open and really aggressive and all.

    “As time goes, you get kind of connected to the salary cap and the cash cap and all that—you get slowed down a little bit, you don’t have as much freedom. So we feel the freedom of the draft picks, we feel the freedom of the financial situation, and the excitement of putting our team together again.”

    Carroll can call it whatever he likes, but the Seahawks are rebuilding after parting ways with quarterback Russell Wilson and linebacker Bobby Wagner.

    In some ways the coach is right. The organization basically reset to when he and general manager John Schneider took over the franchise. As a result, the two are getting back to basics.

    Seattle will be built around a tough defense and a physical rushing attack. At least, that should be the plan. With Drew Lock or Geno Smith behind center, the triumvirate of Rashaad Penny, Kenneth Walker III and Chris Carson will likely be the focal point of the offense, particularly after the team invested first- and third-round picks in offensive tackles Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas to solidify the front five.

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    Tom Brady retired. Or did he? Maybe the occurrence was nothing more than a fever dream experienced by those hoping the greatest quarterback of all time finally chose to leave the game. Brady turns 45 later this year, and he’s still going strong after setting career-highs last season in completions and pass attempts by a wide margin.

    The future Hall of Famer’s about-face changed the direction of the entire Tampa Bay Buccaneers organization. Brady’s decision helped sway others, like center Ryan Jensen and cornerback Carlton Davis, who could have dipped into robust free-agent markets. Instead, they chose to re-sign.

    “He called me and said, ‘Hey, I’m going back for real,'” Jensen told reporters. “I was wanting to come back to Tampa. I didn’t want to have to move, and look at it here, it’s gorgeous. You don’t want to leave a place like this, so obviously Tom coming back helped, but it makes it that much better.”

    Furthermore, the move spurred certain moves to offset other player movement. Ali Marpet retired and Alex Cappa signed with the Cincinnati Bengals, so general manager Jason Licht traded for Shaq Mason. Antonio Brown’s departure led to Russell Gage’s signing as a replacement. Ndamukong Suh remains a free agent after seeing a decrease in a level of play. Tampa Bay responded by signing Akiem Hicks.

    The Buccaneers continue to operate at the highest level, because they know their Super Bowl window remains open with Brady behind center.

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    The NFL doesn’t remain static. Either a team is getting better or worse. For the Tennessee Titans, the latter is true.

    While Derrick Henry will be back and healthy, no one should overlook the fact he missed nine games last year after suffering a Jones fracture in his foot. In the last three seasons, the running back has 975 touches, not including the playoffs.

    Beyond Henry, the Titans’ offensive nucleus is questionable.

    The organization chose to trade A.J. Brown to the Philadelphia Eagles for this year’s 18th overall pick, which the Titans used to select wide receiver Treylon Burks. Julio Jones remains a free agent. Tennessee did sign two-time Pro Bowl tight end Austin Hooper, though his two seasons with the Cleveland Browns turned out to be a bust. The team also traded for Robert Woods, but he’s still recovering from a torn ACL he suffered in November.

    Up front, significant question marks exist at left guard and right tackle. Aaron Brewer and Jamarco Jones will compete to start at guard, while last year’s second-round draft pick, Dillon Radunz, hopes to settle in at right tackle.

    The Titans are well-coached and feature arguably the game’s best defensive front. Tennessee is still a quality team and a tough out. But its current status on offense raises questions about how competitive it can actually be when weighed against the AFC’s better squads, particularly the rival Indianapolis Colts.

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    A fresh start and a clean break
    may both occur simultaneously for the Washington franchise.

    The previously nameless squad announced its new name as the Commanders in February after years of owner Daniel Snyder pushing back against an eventual change. Right now, the rebranded organization may need more than just a cosmetic fix since the problems run much deeper than a racial slur being used as a mascot.

    The House Oversight Committee will hold a hearing on Capitol Hill to discuss the toxic workplace said to have been perpetrated during Snyder’s stewardship of the franchise. As part of the investigation, the Committee revealed that Snyder may have withheld refundable deposits from season-ticket holders and hidden shareable cash from NFL owners.

    Depending on how the hearing unfolds, the league’s other 31 owners may be forced to take action against one of their own.

    On the field, the Commanders aren’t the same level of mess, but the coaching staff is now tasked with Carson Wentz as the team’s starting quarterback after wearing out his welcome with two previous franchises. As long as Wentz shows some consistency without forcing the issue and making ill-timed poor decisions, Washington can compete in the NFC East.

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