Even in the midst of COVID-19, the first few days of the 2020 NFL new year were hectic, including multiple potential Hall of Famers changing teams. There's still quite a bit to come before the 2020 season begins, but here's an early look at the winners and losers - both in terms of signings and trades - of the NFL offseason.
Arizona Cardinals: A+
Perhaps it seems strange to begin NFL free agency winners or losers with a team whose biggest pickup was in the trade market, but the Arizona Cardinals got significantly better by acquiring three-time All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins from the Houston Texans.
What's more, the Texans were able to rid themselves of David Johnson's remaining financial commitments as part of a fleecing of Bill O'Brien and Houston. Last season, Kenyan Drake emerged as the team's best rushing option after being acquired by the Miami Dolphins mid season. By placing the transition tag on him this week, the Cardinals likely assured that the 26-year-old will remain in Arizona for at least another season.
As noted in our latest RADIO.COM NFL Power Rankings, it's hard to quantify how drastically the Cardinals have improved their roster over the last calendar year. At this time a year ago, the Cardinals may have had the bleakest outlook of any team in the sport. Now, Kyler Murray and company look like a team that's trending towards being one of the most successful over the next half decade.
New Orleans Saints: B
The Saints certainly didn't undergo a youth infusion this week, but if their goal was to set themselves up to potentially make one last Super Bowl run with Drew Brees, it was a pretty successful week.
First of all, they reunited with safety Malcolm Jenkins on a four-year deal. Jenkins, 32, was a first-round pick of the Saints in the 2009 NFL Draft out of Ohio State. Despite being part of their Super Bowl XLIV winning team, Jenkins was allowed to leave and sign with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2014, after his rookie deal expired. He became a stalwart in the Eagles' secondary, helping them to win their first Super Bowl title as well. Bringing him back now should help improve what was the 11th best overall defensive unit in 2019.
In addition to retaining Drew Brees - who was technically a free agent - the Saints also added Emmanuel Sanders on a two-year/$16 million deal in free agency, which should bolster a receiving corps that was pretty thin outside of Offensive Player of the Year Michael Thomas.
Los Angeles Chargers: C+
In a rare twist, being in Los Angeles actually may have worked against the Chargers in their pursuit of Tom Brady, with NFL Network's Jim Trotter saying that Brady preferred to play somewhere on the East Coast.
There, of course, is nothing the Chargers could do to change their location to accommodate Brady, but for a team desperate to make inroads in Los Angeles - and set to move into a new stadium in 2020 - missing out on Brady probably burns fairly severely.
It should be pointed out that it wasn't all bad for the Chargers this week. They did sign veteran cornerback Chris Harris to a two-year pact in free agency. They do still have the No. 6 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, one that could theoretically be used to move up to take either Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert. As it stands, though, it appears Tyrod Taylor could be their Week 1 starter in 2020. Taylor may actually prove to be an upgrade over what Philip Rivers was in 2019, but in terms of being a draw to bring people to SoFi Stadium, respectfully, he won't be that.
Buffalo Bills: A
Though they reached the playoffs in 2019, the Bills only scored 30 or more points twice in the 2019 season, both times against the lowly Miami Dolphins. This week, they assured that will probably change in 2020.
The Bills had already begun to surround Josh Allen with an impressive group of skill-position talent that included John Brown, Cole Beasley, Dawson Knox and Devin Singletary. However, by trading their first-round pick as part of a deal to land Stefon Diggs from the Minnesota Vikings, the Bills added a legitimate star to their offense.
Mind you, the team that has won 16 of the last 18 division titles allowed Tom Brady to leave in free agency this week, making the Bills the prohibited favorites to win the AFC East in 2020.
San Francisco 49ers: B+
While it may burn to have to trade DeForest Buckner and watch Emmanuel Sanders leave in free agency, the moves that the 49ers made this week were designed to make sure that they don't end up in cap hell, like the division-rival Los Angeles Rams.
In their trade of Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts, the 49ers secured the No. 13 overall pick in the NFL Draft. That may allow them to land a wide receiver to replace Sanders, as they are projected to select CeeDee Lamb out of Oklahoma in our latest RADIO.COM Sports NFL Mock Draft.
By moving on from Buckner, who would have become a free agent after the 2020 season, the 49ers have also left themselves flexibility to take care of future extensions for George Kittle and Nick Bosa.
Miami Dolphins: A-
Don't look now, but the Dolphins could get better in a hurry.
This week, the Dolphins signed cornerback Byron Jones, linebacker Kyle Van Noy, running back Jordan Howard, defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah and defensive end Shaq Lawson, among others. Over the next two drafts, the Dolphins possess five first-round picks and four second-round picks.
After starting the 2019 season 0-7, the Dolphins won five of their final nine games, including a 27-24 win in New England in Week 17. Brian Flores seemingly got tremendous buy-in during his first year as the team's head coach, a pretty remarkable feat considering the team's roster was seemingly designed to go 0-16 and secure the No. 1 overall pick. Imagine what Flores will be able to do with a competent roster.
Houston Texans: F
Whatever you think of Bill O'Brien as a football coach, Bill O'Brien had a tough week in his capacity as the lead executive in the Texans' front office.
It would have been a pretty tough sell to trade 27-year-old DeAndre Hopkins - one of the most accomplished players in the brief history of the franchise - regardless of what you got in return. However, to not net even land a first-round pick, and to inexplicably take on the once seemingly untradable contract of David Johnson is a very bad look.
By making such a bold deal, O'Brien has put a ton of pressure on himself in 2020. If the Texans aren't able to make a deep run in the AFC playoffs, Houston may be making a change at head coach and general manager.
New England Patriots: ?
This isn't a cop out - Bill Belichick has simply earned the benefit of the doubt.
For most teams, losing Tom Brady would serve as a sign that a rebuild is coming. Perhaps one is in New England. Even though they went 12-4 in 2019, the Patriots looked like a team that, at a minimum, needed retooling on the offensive side of the ball. And that was with Brady.
If the keys are handed to to Jarrett Stidham, we're not going to say Belichick won't still find a way to guide the Patriots to the playoffs. But the Green Bay Packers went 6-10 in the first year of the Aaron Rodgers era, a year after Brett Favre had taken them to the NFC Championship Game. Perhaps, if Stidham takes over, 2020 will prove to be a season filled with growing pains for the Patriots. Of course, in his third year as a starter, Rodgers led the Packers to a Super Bowl title, and he didn't have arguably the greatest head coach in the history of professional sports on his side.
Indianapolis Colts: B
The potential future Hall of Fame quarterback that the Colts signed this week was actually their second most notable transaction.
The most noteworthy addition that the Colts made this week was acquiring star defensive lineman DeForest Buckner from the San Francisco 49ers. Acquiring Buckner wasn't cheap, as they had to send the No. 13 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft to San Francisco for his services. However, the the 26-year-old has 28.5 sacks in four seasons, which should immediately upgrade a defensive unit that was middle of the road a season ago.
And yes, the Colts also signed Philip Rivers to a one-year/$25 million deal. While Jacoby Brissett was perhaps the safer option, Rivers is just two years removed from tossing 32 touchdowns and leading the Chargers to a 12-4 record. If he's able to rekindle things with head coach Frank Reich, the Colts could be a dark horse contender in the AFC. It is possible, though, at age 38, Rivers hit a wall with his 20-interception season in 2019. That possibility makes it likely that the Colts will use one of their early remaining picks in the NFL Draft on a quarterback.
Dallas Cowboys: C
It's funny, the Cowboys retained Amari Cooper on a five-year/$100 million deal this week, and that almost feels like an afterthought.
In theory, it may not be an awful idea of have Dak Prescott play under the franchise tag in 2020 - his first year with new head coach Mike McCarthy - before committing to him long term. However, an offseason already likely to be altered by COVID-19 could become even uglier for the Cowboys if Prescott holds out of Training Camp in hopes of a new contract, leaving him without time to really pick up McCarthy's system.
Additionally, the Cowboys saw star cornerback Byron Jones leave in free agency this week as well. While not a surprise, it's not a good look to use a first-round pick on a player, work through their growing pains and then not have the flexibility to mount a serious effort to retain them as they reach their peak.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: A-
Perhaps Tom Brady will finally hit a wall in his age-43 season, and the two-year/$50 million deal that he signed to join the Bucs will prove to be a disappointment. Right now, though, it's hard not to imagine how much he could thrive in Bruce Arians' offense.
Consider this, in 2019, even though neither played all 16 games, both Mike Evans and Chris Godwin had over 1,100 receiving yards. Brady will go from perhaps the worst group of pass catchers that he's ever had, to probably the best since the Patriots went 16-0 in 2007. Even if he's just good, not great, that will probably be enough for the Buccaneers to be a playoff team in 2020, when you consider they won seven games in 2019 even with Jameis Winston turning the ball over 36 total times.
It's unclear exactly what Brady's ceiling is at this stage of his career, but if he's able to reach that in 2020, the Buccaneers could compete for a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs. Granted, the New Orleans Saints have Super Bowl aspirations of their own. But the other two teams in the NFC South, the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers, may end up being among the NFL's least competitive teams in 2020.