2020 NFL Free Agency: Six teams that made the most interesting offensive upgrades

While NFL teams splashed the pot with huge amounts of money to make upgrades on defense in the early days of free agency, their spending on the offensive side of the ball was more controlled. Five different defensive positions were paid more total money than the highest-paid offensive position (guard) this week, and even though several quarterbacks changed teams, the amount of money spent on that position made it only the seventh-highest paid position in free agency so far. 

Still, there are plenty of teams making interesting moves to upgrade their offense, either landing a new quarterback to take the offense to the next level, or providing their incumbent quarterback with needed infrastructure upgrades to allow him to take the next step. Here are a few of our favorite fits. 

Teddy Bridgewater, Carolina Panthers 

The Panthers have still yet to find a taker for Cam Newton, but they’ve already identified their next quarterback. Bridgewater looked pretty good in his fill-in role last year in New Orleans, though his 5-0 record in starts overstates his actual level of play. Still, he is about as good a bridge option a team like Carolina could ask for right now. Bridgewater takes care of the ball and has both the willingness and ability to quickly get the ball into the hands of his receivers and let them do work after the catch. 

While there are some teams for which Bridgewater’s conservative style with incredibly short throws wouldn’t work, it’s possible Carolina is actually quite a good fit. Matt Rhule’s Baylor offense attacked a bit farther downfield than Bridgewater typically likes to so it’ll be interesting to see how their styles mesh, but his top two passing game targets with the Panthers will be Christian McCaffrey and D.J. Moore, each of whom excels at making defenders miss in tight spaces and then racking up extra yards. 

Landing Bridgewater on a three-year deal that pays $63 million and guarantees $33 million of it is an excellent move for a team that is clearly thinking long-term but isn’t necessarily looking to bottom out in the interim.

Austin Hooper and Jack Conklin, Cleveland Browns 

It did not take long for Andrew Berry and company to help new Browns coach Kevin Stefanski try to recreate what he had in Minnesota last season. The Browns already had Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt as their version of Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison, plus Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry to play the roles of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Here, they added Hooper to play Kyle Rudolph to David Njoku’s Irv Smith, as well as Conklin to solidify the right tackle spot that is so important to Stefanski’s wide zone-based running game. 

Baker Mayfield has excelled in 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends) during his two years in the NFL, completing 84 of 132 passes (63.6 percent) for 1,159 yards (8.8 per attempt), nine touchdowns, and three interceptions, per Sports Info Solutions. That works out to a 105.0 passer rating — 22 points better than his 83.0 mark out of all other formations. Being able to work out of a base set that includes Beckham, Landry, Hooper, and Njoku should play to his strengths. And while Conklin is a better run blocker than he is when protecting the pass, he represents a significant upgrade over what the Browns had there last season. Cleveland still needs to add more help up front, but this is a good start.

Connor McGovern, New York Jets 

Much like the Browns had trouble protecting their second-year quarterback last season, so too did the Jets. Sam Darnold was one of only two quarterbacks who was pressured on more than 40 percent of his drop backs last season, per Pro Football Focus. 

New York clearly made upgrading the line in front of him a priority this offseason, but while the three years and $30 million they gave to former Seahawks tackle George Fant looks like an overpay, the three-year, $27 million contract ($18 million guaranteed) they gave McGovern — who checked in third in our interior offensive line free-agency rankings — looks like a steal. Among the 101 interior linemen who played at least 500 snaps last season, McGovern ranked 12th in PFF’s pass block grading system. Outgoing Jets center Jonathan Harrison ranked 84th. That’s a nice, affordable upgrade at a position of great need.

Philip Rivers, Indianapolis Colts 

While Tom Brady and Bruce Arians may face a learning curve in meshing their styles together in Tampa, Rivers steps into a situation in Indianapolis where he already knows the intricacies of the offense he’ll be running. Colts coach Frank Reich was Rivers’ former offensive coordinator in San Diego, and during the time they were together Rivers averaged 4,539 yards, 30 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions per season. It seems safe to say the Colts would take that from their quarterback all day. 

Rivers will be afforded better protection in Indy than he was over the past few years in Los Angeles, which should help him given that he is not the most mobile quarterback out there. The Colts do need to upgrade the passing-game weapons he has available to him, though. T.Y. Hilton is excellent and Parris Campbell has some potential, but Rivers is coming from a situation where he had Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Hunter Henry, and the Melvin Gordon/Austin Ekeler combination out of the backfield. Nyheim Hines could potentially replicate some of what Ekeler brings to the table, but this unit needs to add depth.

Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills 

OK so we’re cheating a bit here because teams have just spent significantly less money on offensive players than they have on defense so far. Diggs, though, is just about a perfect fit for the Bills. As we mentioned in out free-agent preview, it’s possible nobody had a better 2019 free-agency period than Buffalo, who added John Brown, Cole Beasley, and Quinton Spain to upgrade the infrastructure around Josh Allen. Diggs’ arrival pushes Brown and Beasley down one spot each in the target pecking order, allowing them to play roles more suited to their skills. 

They now have a premier deep threat, a chain-moving slot guy, and a dynamic all-levels playmaker to test defenses all over the field. Allen still needs to progress as a decision-maker and in terms of his accuracy, but it would be extremely difficult to say that the Bills are not putting him in the best possible position to succeed. 

DeAndre Hopkins, Arizona Cardinals 

Speaking of putting your young quarterback in the best possible position to succeed … wow. The Cardinals pulled off an absolute heist with the Hopkins trade, landing him and dumping David Johnson’s toxic contract and only sacrificing a second-round pick and a swap of fourth-rounders to get it done. Crazy. 

Hopkins is the type of premier outside threat the Cardinals just did not afford Kyler Murray during his rookie season, and his presence will not only help Murray, but also interior receivers like Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk. He’s the type of threat that opens up the entire playbook because of his ability to win in tight spaces and deep down the field. With Kliff Kingsbury preferring to load up the field with as many receivers as possible to create wide throwing angles and running lanes, the Cards needed a talent upgrade on the outside, and it’s safe to say they got one with Hopkins. 

There’s already been a ton of action in the NFL, and Will Brinson and the Pick Six Podcast Superfriends break down the best remaining free agents and more; listen below and be sure to subscribe for daily NFL goodness.

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