Recapping Every NFL Team's Key Additions and Losses
With the preseason of OTAs, minicamps and other team activities well under way, we can take a look at how everyone’s roster stands.
Of course, the caveat is always “we won’t know until we see the first game,” but we can talk about who each team lost, who it added and what each thing means.
A “key” loss is a player who not only was rated highly, but had a significant impact for his team on the majority of the snaps on the field. In other words, stats aren’t the end-all, be-all.
For example, Brian Urlacher’s last few years for the Chicago Bears weren’t statistically impressive, but his loss (both while hurt in 2012 and after he was cut and retired) reverberated hugely in that defense.
That’s because Urlacher was the quarterback of the defense, and when that leadership was gone, it was awfully hard to replace.
A “key” add is, in many ways, more speculative. After all, aside from a player like Peyton Manning arriving on your team, we don’t know if a player’s skills will translate to his new team.
In fact, even when Manning joined the Denver Broncos there were concerns about his health and impact. A better example might be a guy like Santonio Holmes. Holmes looked like a great idea for the New York Jets after a big 2009 and three other solid seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but ultimately he was never a great fit for that offense and didn’t pay off.
For our purposes, a “key” addition will be someone who addressed a need or changes the face of some aspect of the team he arrived at.
With all that out of the way, let’s start this ball rolling.
Key Loss: Jairus Byrd, Safety
Key Add: Cyrus Kouandjio, Offensive Line
Losing one of the best safeties in the NFL is a tough loss to overcome because you’re almost never replacing him with anyone at his level.
Having a player like Jairus Byrd leave would be tough enough under any circumstances. When the players left behind are much less talented and you are depending on guys like Da’Norris Searcy or Duke Williams, a defense’s job becomes much tougher.
As for prime additions, Sammy Watkins is the obvious answer. He replaces Stevie Johnson though, so despite being a potentially better player, it’s almost a push.
More critical and unappreciated is the addition of rookie tackle Cyrus Kouandjio. NFL defenses are more flexible in their attacks—you can no longer have a great left tackle and not worry about the right tackle.
Chris Hairston is a decent right tackle, but Kouandjio—who slipped to the second in part because of concerns about his knees, per Chase Goodbread of NFL.com—is a cut above him. Kouandjio will give the Bills bookend tackles who are able to not only keep second-year quarterback EJ Manuel upright, but open running lanes for the backfield.
Key Loss: Chris Clemons, Safety
Key Add: Branden Albert, Offensive Tackle
The Miami Dolphins lost multiple defensive players, but if the defense stumbles it won’t be there. The biggest concern for a loss is safety, where the hope will be that former Detroit Lion Louis Delmas can replace Chris Clemons, who is now in Houston.
When Delmas is healthy, he can be a very solid safety. The issue is that he is almost always hurt. In fact, last year was the first time he played a full slate of games since his rookie season (and the most since he played 15 games in his sophomore season).
If Delmas starts getting hurt again, the safety position could struggle.
On the flip side, the best addition is without a doubt Branden Albert. Aside from the fact that he brings much-needed stability to the line (and is a veteran who can help Ryan Tannehill continue to progress), Albert provides a fresh start for a line which was wracked with confusion due to injuries and the chaos caused by the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin flap.
Albert will be a cornerstone you can build the line on this season.
New England Patriots
Key Loss: Brandon Spikes, Linebacker
Key Add: Darrelle Revis, Cornerback
The Patriots don’t lose people they can’t replace very often—you can make an argument for Wes Welker, but aside from him, there just aren’t many. Brandon Spikes might be another one, though.
Sometimes even a team like New England, which has famously recycled other teams’ “bad egg” players, has to say “enough.” For whatever reason—and there are only hints like in this column at the Boston Herald by Jeff Howe—the Pats hit their limit with Spikes.
They’re replacing him with Jerod Mayo, who struggled before being placed on injured reserve for a torn pectoral muscle which required surgery, as reported by CBSSports.com’s John Breech. He’s a two-time Pro Bowler though, so it's more than likely he bounces back.
It’s tough to lose a key run-stopper like Spikes though.
If losing Spikes gives Pats fans any frowns, acquiring Darrelle Revis will have them smiling.
The Patriots and their fans know what Revis is capable of, and you have to assume that a guy who can close off half the field was attractive when during this season you will face the Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts, Detroit, Green Bay Packers and San Diego Chargers with their accompanying pass-heavy offenses, top quarterbacks and great receivers.
Revis was one of the best acquisitions by anyone in the NFL this offseason.
New York Jets
Key Loss: Antonio Cromartie, Cornerback
Key Add: Eric Decker, Wide Receiver
I’ve been reading Nicholas Dawidoff’s excellent book, Collision Low Crossers: A Year Inside the Turbulent World of NFL Football, which includes some not-so-flattering pieces on Antonio Cromartie’s aversion to tackling.
You only need to watch him for a while to see he’s not a guy who is going to lay anyone out, and while he doesn’t actively avoid contact on every down, you can tell he doesn’t love it.
Aside from that though, Cro has been a solid player for the Jets, intercepting no less than three passes each of his four years with the Jets. And even when he struggled last season, he often was reliable enough to help the Jets when Darrelle Revis was hurt and then after he had left for Tampa Bay.
When the Jets let Cromartie go, the assumption was they’d nab a free agent, but they didn’t.
That leaves inexperienced (and shaky) Dee Milliner and Dimitri Patterson to take over. Milliner showed improvement at the end of the season, and Patterson, while no Pro Bowler, has always been tough on receivers going inside—a weakness the Jets D has had in the past. Can either replace Cromartie’s ability to cover vertical threats?
That could be key in how the Jets do this coming season.
Meanwhile, the Jets needed to get someone—anyone—to improve the receiver corps. While Eric Decker won’t put up numbers like he did with Peyton Manning (because Geno Smith/Mike Vick are no Manning), he should bring a stability to the offense as well as the ability to both go vertical and make tough catches on shorter routes.
If the Jets are going to find out what Geno Smith can really do, he needs real weapons, and Decker is a huge upgrade from what the Jets had last year.
Key Loss: Arthur Jones, Defensive End
Key Add: Steve Smith, Wide Receiver
Baltimore did a good job of holding onto its most vital pieces this offseason after letting too many key pieces leave after its Super Bowl win.
This year, the Ravens lost very few pieces you could call vital, one of them being rotational defensive lineman Arthur Jones. Jones was ranked as the No. 12 3-4 defensive end (out of 45) by Pro Football Focus (subscription required) for the 2013 NFL season.
Per Pro Football Focus, Jones played the third-highest amount of snaps on the defensive line, behind Haloti Ngata and Chris Canty, and was very effective. It could be a step back for the line, but as losses go, it’s one it should be able to handle.
After losing Anquan Boldin, the Ravens missed guys who could play tough and make the tough catches. Steve Smith doesn’t have what Boldin appears to still have in the tank, but he is a solid receiver who could have a lot of success across from Torrey Smith and give Joe Flacco another good weapon to throw to.
Key Loss: Michael Johnson, Defensive End
Key Add: Hue Jackson, Offensive Coordinator
I’d feel better about the loss of Michael Johnson if Mike Zimmer was still the defensive coordinator, but he’s not, and Paul Guenther doesn’t have enough experience for me to feel comfortable with Johnson’s departure.
Wallace Gilberry has been OK for the Bengals but as a situational pass-rusher, and he wasn’t on the field nearly as much as Johnson. Between Johnson and Zimmer leaving, this is a defense which is a bit of a mystery. Though with Carlos Dunlap at one end and Geno Atkins healthy, the talent is there.
I’ve never been Jay Gruden’s biggest fan, and I suppose we’ll see whether he was holding Andy Dalton back or vice versa rather early this season.
Hue Jackson is an interesting choice but potentially a very sharp one. Promoted from running backs coach, per ESPN.com’s Coley Harvey, it’s no shock that Jackson wants to focus on running the ball, via Bengals.com’s Geoff Hobson.
An effective game is a good thing for Dalton, as it will help take some pressure off him, especially late in the season (and during the postseason) when Dalton seems to run out of gas.
We’ll see if Jackson can help Dalton improve as the quarterback enters the last year of his deal.
Key Loss: T.J. Ward, Safety
Key Add: Donte Whitner, Safety
With the loss of T.J. Ward (tied for third in Pro Football Focus’ safety rankings) to the Denver Broncos, the Browns secondary suddenly had a pretty big hole.
So it was fortuitous that Donte Whitner hit the market when he did.
Whitner is an intimidating safety who will deliver harsh reminders to receivers that there is no free lunch in the secondary. Whitner is a two-time Pro Bowler and not much of a drop-off from Ward.
So while it was tough to let Ward walk out the door, Whitner should help ease that pain in a big way.
Key Loss: Emmanuel Sanders, Wide Receiver
Key Add: Ryan Shazier, Linebacker
While it may not seem like a huge deal, losing Emmanuel Sanders leaves the receiving corps with a bit of a question mark in terms of depth, especially with Jerricho Cotchery leaving as well.
Markus Wheaton didn’t do much last season, though injuries had something to do with that. Lance Moore will likely try and fill Cotchery’s shoes and should be able to, but he’s a good receiver who has always been a bit streaky. Fourth-round draft pick Martavis Bryant has size enough to be a good threat in the red zone, but some of his tape from college lacks top-level play.
So Sanders, who had finally come around as a solid second or third option, could be missed a lot if the guys left behind don’t come up fast.
Meanwhile, with the defense getting older and slipping a tad, Ryan Shazier will line up next to Lawrence Timmons and could be the first rookie to start on defense since Kendrell Bell in 2001, per Rotoworld. He’s already running with the ones, according to F. Dale Lolley of the Observer-Reporter.
Shazier is a player who will have immediate impact and act as the first piece of a bridge for the defense to get younger.
Key Loss: Matt Schaub, Quarterback
Key Add: Jadeveon Clowney, Linebacker
Bear with me for a moment, as I am sure you’re blinking your eyes that I mention a guy who played as badly as Matt Schaub last year—a guy I have said for several years that Houston was going to move on from...as a key loss.
The thing is, losing Schaub wouldn’t have been an issue if the team had brought in a replacement for him. Ryan Fitzpatrick hasn’t been good since he signed his big contract with Buffalo a few years back; T.J. Yates has had moments but very little upside; and Case Keenum falls apart the more pressure you put on him. Rookie Tom Savage needs time to develop.
This is a team which is so close to contending again that not addressing the quarterback in a meaningful way is somewhat baffling. On the other hand, for all his faults, Schaub was solid for the Texans for quite a long time. As much as I didn’t expect him to ever take them to a Super Bowl, he will bounce back to his normal “OK” level of play and would have been better than anyone on the roster.
New head coach Bill O’Brien probably knows what he is doing, but it’s hard to see from here.
What isn’t hard to see is the reasoning for grabbing Jadeveon Clowney with that first overall pick. All you need to do is look at the depth chart, via Ourlads, to understand. Clowney, Brian Cushing and J.J. Watt, with contributions from Whitney Mercilus and Jared Crick, is a pretty scary combination—and that’s before adding in rookie Louis Nix.
Clowney can step right in and, with all that talent around him, make a lot of quarterbacks very miserable.
Key Loss: Antoine Bethea, Safety
Key Add: Donte Moncrief, Wide Receiver
You don’t lose a guy who ESPN.com’s Mike Wells called “the backbone of the secondary” and not blink. While LaRon Landry remains (albeit coming off a down year), Corey Lynch is currently slated as the other starting safety, per Ourlads, and that doesn’t engender confidence.
Lynch was last seen when Indy snagged him off the waiver list last November, but he played just 23 snaps for the Colts, per Pro Football Focus. He’s entering his seventh year and has just one solid season under his belt—2012 in San Diego—and a lot of mediocrity.
Losing Bethea might really be a problem if Lynch and the rest of the bench don’t find their groove.
On the other hand, while Donte Moncrief is currently buried on the depth chart behind Reggie Wayne, Hakeem Nicks, Da’Rick Rogers and T.Y. Hilton, he may fight his way to more snaps than you think.
Wayne is coming off an injury, as is Nicks, who also looked like he lost some steps last season, and Rogers is still a little inconsistent. Hilton is definitely a guy who will get his snaps and is likely going to be a starter sooner than later, but aside from him, nothing is set in stone for the future.
Moncrief has the tools to be a top receiver and is still learning to play to his size. Once he does, he’s going to be a force. Don’t be shocked if the Colts test the waters this year.
Key Loss: Maurice Jones-Drew, Running Back
Key Add: Blake Bortles, Quarterback
Without a doubt, Maurice Jones-Drew has lost a couple of steps, watching his yards-per-carry average drop from 4.7 in 2011 to 3.4 in 2013. However, even at 29, it’s likely he still has some gas left in the tank.
The Jaguars were hesitant to sign an older back to a deal (even a short-term one), opting instead for a slightly younger back.
The problem is they paid more money to Toby Gerhart—the Oakland Raiders paid Jones-Drew $7.5 million over three years with just $1.2 million guaranteed versus the $10.5 million with a whopping $4.5 million guaranteed for Gerhart—despite the fact that he has almost no track record in the NFL, and what he has isn’t exciting.
It’s a big gamble.
Blake Bortles isn’t though, even if you don’t see him. The Blaine Gabbert Experience was a bad one when it was all said and done, but the Jaguars grabbed a guy in Bortles who has fewer questions, even if he has some rough edges to smooth out.
The team can be cautious with him all it wants, but he will still be the biggest and most critical addition to its lineup for some time to come.
Key Loss: Alterraun Verner, Cornerback
Key Add: Bishop Sankey, Running Back
As with a lot of these AFC teams, the Titans will most likely miss a defensive back more than anyone else.
Alterraun Verner was Pro Football Focus’ No. 12 cornerback in 2013, while Football Outsiders had him ranked just outside the top 10 in lowest yards allowed per snap and lowest adjusted failures per snap (defensive pass interferences or completions that gained successful yardage) as well as No. 8 in adjusted success rate—the percentage of passes that don't manage to get at least 45 percent of needed yards on first down, 60 percent of needed yards on second down or 100 percent of needed yards on third down, according to author Aaron Schatz.
Jason McCourty is still there, which is good, but we haven’t see quite enough of Blidi Wreh-Wilson to know for sure what to expect.
All in all, it’s a big loss, though how big remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, the Titans filled what possibly could have been a big hole by drafting former Washington running back Bishop Sankey in the second round. Chris Johnson may have been on the decline, but he had never been below 1,000 yards in his six-year career, unlike Shonn Greene who topped 1,000 yards just two times and was alternately hurt and ineffective last season.
That’s not a concern though, as Sankey is a tough runner with great instincts and vision. He can run inside the tackles, get to the edge and shows good acceleration at the second level. He can also carry a large load and is the type of back who gets better as the game goes.
He has the chance to be a very good back for a long time in Tennessee.
Key Loss: Robert Ayers, Defensive End
Key Add: T.J. Ward, Safety
This was actually a very hard one for both categories, as the Broncos lost a lot of guys but did a solid job of filling the voids they left (on paper). That said, the loss of Robert Ayers will probably hurt most.
Mostly a run-stopper, Ayers got more sacks than usual last season with Von Miller out. He’s a good player but not irreplaceable, though it remains to be seen if Derek Wolfe can step up his play as he comes back from injured reserve, where he was due to some seizure-like symptoms and a spinal-cord injury, per Nick Groke of The Denver Post.
As with the loss, the key add is up for debate. There were a lot of new faces added to the team, specifically to the defense. It likely comes down to Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward, with Ward getting the edge because the safety position had more issues than the corners.
More than anything, the Broncos came away from their Super Bowl beating with an appreciation of what a big hit or two can do for a defense. Both Talib and Ward are proof, but Ward is the bigger addition as he’s a bit better in coverage and because he’ll probably be given more of an enforcer role, which is something the Broncos have lacked for some time.
Kansas City Chiefs
Key Loss: Geoff Schwartz, Guard
Key Add: Phillip Gaines, Cornerback
The Kansas City Chiefs lost three starting offensive linemen, but while many would worry most about losing tackle Branden Albert, the guy whose absence will be felt the most is guard Geoff Schwartz.
Pro Football Focus’ No. 8 ranked guard, Schwartz has moved around a lot more than he should have, but you won’t find many guys more solid to fortify the interior of your offensive line.
While Eric Fisher will easily step in for Albert, replacing Schwartz with either Jeff Linkenbach or Jeff Allen—neither of whom has been very impressive in the past—seems a dubious proposition.
The Chiefs didn’t add a whole lot that stands out, so let’s look at a guy who might be a solution to a problem in the closer-than-you-think future.
While rookie cornerback Phillip Gaines is a little rough around the edges, the team could be looking at him as a replacement for Brandon Flowers, who is unhappy and could be cut this week to save cap space, according to KansasCity.com’s Terez Paylor.
Gaines is behind Chris Owens on the depth chart, but Owens is getting old and has injury issues, so it’s not insane to think Gaines could find his way to a starting job. He has good length, nice speed and is a competitor.
He might need to channel all that quickly as a starting cornerback who will face Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers twice this season.
Key Loss: Lamarr Houston, Defensive End
Key Add: Matt Schaub, Quarterback
The Oakland Raiders made a bunch of changes on the defensive side of the ball, getting some solid veterans but also getting very old in short order.
It’s not unusual for teams to make tough choices with young players, but it is surprising to let one of your best young defenders in Lamarr Houston leave without tendering him. The Raiders tried to get an extension done, but clearly the money was not good enough for Houston.
Still, with as much cap space as they had, why not keep a productive and young player?
Houston is very good against the run and totaled 16.5 sacks during his career with the Raiders, consistently bringing pressure from the edge.
LaMarr Woodley and Justin Tuck are very good if they can recapture a bit of their youth, but in a year or two the Raiders will miss Houston.
While the 2013 NFL season of Matt Schaub was just short of apocalyptic in its collapse, Schaub had been productive as the Houston Texans quarterback for a long time. While it made sense for Houston to move on (well, it did before it decided not to replace him), there’s a good chance that Schaub bounces back this year.
He may not be as productive as he was a few years back, but he’s better than what the Raiders have otherwise and clears up a sticky quarterback situation. His presence also buys time to develop Derek Carr a bit more before throwing him to the AFC West wolves.
San Diego Chargers
Key Loss: Charlie Whitehurst, Quarterback
Key Add: Jason Verrett, Cornerback
If you look at who the team lost in free agency—Derek Cox, Lavelle Hawkins, Terrell Manning, Stephen Schilling, Cam Thomas and Charlie Whitehurst—there isn’t anyone who stands out as critical to the overall team.
Whitehurst is a veteran quarterback who knows the offense really well and is replaced by Kellen Clemens, a guy who struggled for the most part when he filled in for Sam Bradford in St. Louis last year.
Again, not critical, as Rivers hasn’t missed a game since he took the starting role over in 2006, but a step down nonetheless.
Meanwhile, the Chargers addressed the secondary with the pick of Jason Verrett. The secondary has been an issue for the defense for a long time, with its one standout player being safety Eric Weddle.
Verrett is a bit undersized but has tremendous instincts, great athleticism and excellent ball skills. The Chargers are in a division where they face Peyton Manning twice and have a schedule that features matchups against Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Sammy Watkins, Percy Harvin, Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Dwayne Bowe, Torrey Smith and Michael Crabtree.
A good secondary is critical if they are to build on last year’s success.
Key Loss: DeMarcus Ware, Defensive End
Key Add: Demarcus Lawrence, Defensive End
Releasing DeMarcus Ware was a strictly monetary decision and one which was pretty logical. The team had salary-cap issues, and Ware’s hit was substantial. He wouldn’t take a pay cut, so the team had no choice.
That doesn’t make it any easier to watch a seven-time Pro Bowler leave the team. Especially with Sean Lee now injured and likely to be gone for the season, as reported by Todd Archer of ESPN.com. An already thin defense gets even more depleted, and releasing Ware stings even more now.
On the bright side, the Cowboys drafted defensive end Demarcus Lawrence with the second pick in the second round, trading up with their hated rivals in Washington.
Lawrence is a great edge pass-rusher, and he played inside and out on the line for Boise State, so he’s versatile. Given the injuries and other issues on the defense, that will loom huge.
While he’s still a bit raw, Lawrence has huge upside, and even as he develops, his size, speed and explosion will be a pass-rushing factor the team desperately needs now.
New York Giants
Key Loss: Justin Tuck, Defensive End
Key Add: Geoff Schwartz, Guard
The decision to let Justin Tuck walk—like Dallas’ decision to cut DeMarcus Ware—was largely a financial one, though unlike Ware, Tuck’s game was noticeably aging.
Overall the Giants didn’t lose many key players, and you can make the argument that losing Tuck barely matters given his last two seasons and the fact that the team has the guys to replace him.
As for key adds, a lot of people would probably point to the addition of rookie receiver Odell Beckham Jr., but I lean another way.
I’ve long said the signing of guard Geoff Schwartz is the most underrated one of the offseason.
Schwartz was Pro Football Focus’ No. 8 ranked guard, and while he has logged some miles during the last few offseasons (Carolina to Minnesota to Kansas City and now New York/New Jersey), you will find few interior linemen as stable and reliable as he is.
This line was an absolute disaster last season, and the ripple effect was that the entire offense fell apart. If the offense is to bounce back, it has to start with the offensive line.
And adding Geoff Schwartz is a great foundation to rebuild that line. Expect to look back on this signing as one of the best of the 2014 offseason.
Key Loss: DeSean Jackson, Wide Receiver
Key Add: Malcolm Jenkins, Safety
Take whatever you want away from the chaos surrounding it, losing DeSean Jackson is a blow. Chip Kelly’s offense will survive—helped by a healthy Jeremy Maclin and rookie Jordan Matthews—but it remains to be seen if the Eagles have the vertical threat on the roster that Jackson represented.
In many ways you can’t blame Kelly for dumping a guy who wasn’t with the program, but there’s an inherent risk, and it will be interesting to see how the offense fares.
I’m guessing if everyone is healthy, it’ll make do.
The secondary has been an issue for the Eagles defense for years, and while Malcolm Jenkins wasn’t the top safety in free agency, he’s a huge upgrade over what was there before his arrival. Jenkins can also play either safety position, so the Eagles can move him around however they want.
Key Loss: London Fletcher, Linebacker
Key Add: DeSean Jackson, Wide Receiver
While London Fletcher had one of the worst seasons of his career in 2013, losing a player of his caliber, who did so much for the defense, is a tough pill to swallow. Having never missed a game over a 16-year career, Fletcher’s retirement not only hurts the play on the field, but robs the defense of a reliable, tough leader.
That’s awfully hard to replace.
Meanwhile, the team brought in former Philadelphia Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson to be a vertical threat and another option beyond Pierre Garcon and tight end Jordan Reed.
The character and attitude issues aren’t (or don’t appear to be) a concern for Washington, who were all too happy to scoop him up when he hit the street. With Robert Griffin III throwing the ball and the threat of Alfred Morris (and potentially rookie Lache Seastrunk) on the ground to keep defenses honest, Jackson should be a great fit for this offense.
He may not hit the 1,300 yards he did last season, but he will be able to stretch the field and take the top off the defense, improving the offense as he does.
Key Loss: Devin Hester, Kick Returner
Key Add: Lamarr Houston, Defensive End
Even though Devin Hester was too expensive, it’s rough to lose the guy who led the league in kickoff return yards, per ESPN.com. Hester was sixth in return average though, which means he required nine more than the No. 2 guy on the list, Cordarrelle Patterson.
Eric Weems is an unproven replacement as well. As much as Hester was past his prime, if Weems can’t step up, the Bears’ starting field position could be brutal.
Some might have chosen Julius Peppers as the key loss, and it would have been a strong choice, especially since you can argue that as a defensive end, he has a great snap-to-snap impact on the game.
I chose Hester instead because 1) field possession is underrated and 2) the Bears signed Lamarr Houston to replace Peppers. While Houston lacks the long resume Peppers has—as well as the sack totals, especially from last year—he manages to bring the pressure every down anyway.
At just 26 years old, Houston is entering the prime of his career, while Peppers is near the end, and aside from sacks, he had better totals and was more highly ranked by Pro Football Focus (No. 11 vs. 36) for the 2013 season.
Houston may not be an immediate step up, but on a defense which needs youth as well as playmaking ability, Houston was a great buy.
Key Loss: Willie Young, Defensive End
Key Add: James Ihedigbo, Safety
I’m a big fan of Willie Young’s potential, and those who dismiss what he did last year for the Lions are probably looking merely at his stats and not his overall impact on the game. Young did a great job pressuring the quarterback last season with 48 quarterback hurries and seven quarterback hits according to Pro Football Focus.
While there is a lot of talent in the front seven, I’m not sold on Jason Jones as a replacement for Young, even with Young’s limited resume. It probably won’t hurt the Lions, but as they lost very few key pieces, this is one of the few which could be a problem.
The team also lost Louis Delmas, who finally finished an entire season without injury for the first time since his rookie year and surpassed his next highest-total games played in a year of 15 from back in 2010.
In other words, he gets hurt more than he plays.
James Ihedigbo isn’t always great in coverage, and PFF doesn’t have much space between him and Delmas, but he’s able to stay on the field, which makes him more reliable. Further, he is hooking back up with former Ravens defensive backs coach Teryl Austin who helped him to his most productive year ever in 2013.
He should be a great fit next to Glover Quin.
Green Bay Packers
Key Loss: Evan Dietrich-Smith, Center
Key Add: Hasean Clinton-Dix, Safety
It’s the attack of the hyphenated last names!
The Green Bay Packers offensive line always has something going on. Normally it’s injuries, but this time out it’s losing a player to free agency. Evan Dietrich-Smith signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, leaving second-year player J.C. Tretter in his place.
Tretter was injured last year during training camp and never played a down, while Dietrich-Smith stepped in suddenly for Jeff Saturday in 2012 and played very well.
Aaron Rodgers wanted Dietrich-Smith back, according to Weston Hodkiewicz of the Press-Gazette, and he has a right to be nervous. Center is one of the more critical pieces on most offensive lines, as the players have to adjust the line for incoming defenders and make sure everyone knows the assignment.
Hopefully Tretter will be as nice a surprise as Dietrich-Smith was when he popped up.
Meanwhile, the safety position has been a real burr in defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ saddle, and adding “Ha Ha” Clinton-Dix was a no-brainer when he dropped to them at No. 21.
Finally, the Packers have a safety they can pair with Morgan Burnett who will allow the veteran to concentrate on the play in the box because he has range enough to assist either corner. Clinton-Dix is even rock solid in coverage, so the Packers should never have to watch a linebacker try to lock down Vernon Davis again.
Key Loss: Jared Allen, Defensive End
Key Add: Teddy Bridgewater, Quarterback
The Minnesota Vikings were another team which did a good job holding onto its players and mitigating its losses. While it saw seven players leave, none of them were particularly critical.
The one guy you can make an argument for would be defensive end Jared Allen, who led the team in sacks last season, per Pro Football Reference. Brian Robison and Everson Griffen were right behind him, but Allen has been incredibly productive in the six years he played in Minnesota, notching double-digit sacks every year, also per Pro Football Reference.
His leadership and tenacity are hard to do without, though new head coach Mike Zimmer has a habit of finding new ways to replace production.
There are a few additions who could be labeled as key ones—Captain Munnerlyn, Jasper Brinkley, Linval Joseph are all examples—but it’s hard to imagine anyone having a bigger impact than rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
We know you don’t win in this league without a legitimate quarterback unless some miracle happens—such as a running back running for more than 2,000 yards maybe?—so getting a guy under center who can be that answer is priceless.
There’s always the chance Bridgewater busts—after all, there are no sure things in the NFL draft. However, in my opinion, he has the best chance of this draft class to succeed, and if he does, he will be filling a position of desperate need for this team.
Key Loss: Tony Gonzalez, Tight End
Key Add: Jake Matthews, Offensive Tackle
When you lose a player like tight end Tony Gonzalez, you know it will be close to impossible to replace him. The Falcons are deep at wide receiver and stacked at running back, so they shouldn’t have all that much trouble staying on track.
Gonzalez didn’t break 1,000 yards in a season during any of the five years he played for Atlanta, but he made innumerable key catches in big moments and was always someone quarterback Matt Ryan could depend on.
As for additions, there are a lot on the defensive side of the ball who are worthy of the label, but nobody will have a bigger immediate impact than rookie Jake Matthews.
Matthews should step in at left tackle for the overpaid and underwhelming Sam Baker, but right now Ourlads has him at right tackle. That’s important too, as in today’s NFL you need bookend tackles as defenses bring pressure from any and all directions.
Whether he is on the left or right side, Matthews is a player who is at home just as much blocking for the run as he is pass blocking. The offensive line needed some help, and Matthews is going to be one of the key pieces it builds on.
Key Loss: Steve Smith, Wide Receiver
Key Add: Kelvin Benjamin, Wide Receiver
Like many of the surprise cuts we’ve seen this offseason, the Panthers releasing Steve Smith was about money, though the fact that he’s aged a bit has come up repeatedly—most recently in a piece by Joe Person in the Charlotte Observer.
Whatever the reason, the Panthers lose a veteran presence at wide receiver who quarterback Cam Newton could rely on. They’ve done what they can to add guys who could replace Smith—Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant, Tiquan Underwood—but we don’t know if they can fill his shoes.
They also drafted Kelvin Benjamin with their first-round pick to help fill the void. While he’s a bit raw and older than many rookies at 23 years old, his size and catch radius could be incredibly useful in the red zone.
He and Newton are already working on building some chemistry, per USA Today’s Lindsay Jones, so Panther fans can be hopeful that the two of them will get it together by the start of the season.
Because while guys like Cotchery, Avant, Underwood and roster holdovers like Marvin McNutt or Tavarres King are nice placeholders, they have never been huge weapons.
Which is what the Panthers need Benjamin to be.
New Orleans Saints
Key Loss: Brian de la Puente, Center
Key Add: Jairus Byrd, Safety
A few slides back, we talked about the Green Bay Packers losing Evan Dietrich-Smith and how critical it is to have a center you can trust on your line.
We can have the same discussion now, with Brian de la Puente having left for Chicago and unproven guard/center Tim Lelito as his replacement.
The Saints have had a solid line for some time, so overall they should be fine. But you never know how much someone was worth until he is gone, and while most fans might not think about it, you never miss a player as much as an offensive lineman if you don’t have an able replacement at the ready.
In terms of additions, it’s hard to name anyone but safety Jairus Byrd. Nobody expected Byrd to be on New Orleans’ radar, much less for the Saints to find the cash to sign him. But by doing so, the team gave defensive coordinator Rob Ryan a tremendous safety duo.
Byrd and second-year pro Kenny Vaccaro will allow Ryan to run a very aggressive style of defense, especially as Byrd has shown he can generate turnovers as well.
Byrd recently had back surgery, but that shouldn’t hold him out of camp and absolutely won’t slow him down on the field.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Key Loss: Darrelle Revis, Cornerback
Key Add: Alterraun Verner, Cornerback
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers added a lot of talent this offseason but really only lost one player whose absence would cause most fans concern.
Luckily, they turned right around and grabbed a top replacement.
Of course, nobody is easily replacing Darrelle Revis, arguably the best cornerback in the NFL today. Despite coming off ACL surgery last year, Revis was Pro Football Focus’ top corner, while Football Outsiders had him allowing less yards per pass than all but 10 other corners in the NFL (though he was targeted fewer than anyone but Carolina’s Drayton Florence).
It’s hard to follow that up, but Alterraun Verner will try.
Verner was PFF’s No. 12 corner and was ranked at No. 8 for adjusted success rate by Football Outsiders. In author Aaron Schatz’s own words, adjusted success rate “is the percentage of passes that don't manage to get at least 45 percent of needed yards on first down, 60 percent of needed yards on second down, or 100 percent of needed yards on third down.”
It’s hard to say the trade-off is a wash because Revis is a much better overall corner and ridiculously good in man coverage. That said, Verner is an excellent replacement and should do very well in this defense.
Key Loss: Karlos Dansby, Linebacker
Key Add: Antonio Cromartie, Cornerback
After the monster 2013 Karlos Dansby had, one might have expected the Arizona Cardinals to try harder to keep him. But they merely offered a two-year deal worth between $10-12 million, per SI.com’s Doug Farrar, and watched as the Cleveland Browns signed him instead.
Dansby is aging, and there’s always a chance that production for an older player can drop off precipitously, but it’s not as if he was the only aging player. Larry Foote will be 34 this season, Darnell Dockett is 33 and John Abraham is 36.
Meanwhile, the guy they were hoping would shore the middle up in Dansby’s absence—Daryl Washington—is suspended for the year, per Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com.
Teams gamble all the time, weighing the pros and cons of letting an aging veteran walk. This time out, it looks like it might blow up in their faces.
Meanwhile, the team took a shot with another aging veteran, cornerback Antonio Cromartie.
Cromartie is coming off a disappointing season with the Jets, and the Cardinals are hoping that it had more to do with a hip issue, which thankfully didn’t require surgery—per the New York Daily News’ Seth Walder—than age catching up to him.
It’s an odd gamble considering they were so worried about Dansby’s age, but it's one that has a decent chance of paying off. Cromartie was rock solid for the Jets most of his tenure there and was able to step in and perform very well when guys like Darrelle Revis went down.
He should be a good fit across from Patrick Peterson.
San Francisco 49ers
Key Loss: Donte Whitner, Safety
Key Add: Antoine Bethea, Safety
While the 49ers are clearly hoping first-round draft pick Jimmie Ward can step in and replace Donte Whitner long-term, they’ll be looking for Antoine Bethea to tide them over until that can happen.
Whitner is a hard-hitting enforcer in the middle of the field, one who brings a measure of intimidation to a defense which Bethea doesn’t.
By the way, Whitner recently decided against changing his last name to Hitner—which would have simultaneously attracted too much attention from officials and the league office as well as sound too close to Hitler, per Pat McManamon of ESPN.com.
Bethea is coming off a down year but is normally a very solid player and should work well with second-year safety Eric Reid.
It won’t be a seamless transition, but the Niners should be able to handle it.
Key Loss: Golden Tate, Wide Receiver
Key Add: Paul Richardson, Wide Receiver
The Seahawks lost a lot of players, which is what happens when you go to (and win) a Super Bowl. Defensively, this is a team which rotated a lot of players in and out based on situation, so losing guys like Chris Clemons or Red Bryant doesn't sting as much on paper.
Losing Golden Tate might though, as he led the team in targets, receptions and yards. You can expect a healthy Percy Harvin to get most of that production, but who will take over the second spot?
Doug Baldwin might, as he made some clutch plays last season, but he lacks size and speed. Jermaine Kearse has had some moments but is more of a red-zone target.
The Seahawks are probably hoping at least part of the solution comes from rookie Paul Richardson. While he’s a bit undersized (weighing in at just 175 pounds), Richardson has a set of afterburners on him and will blow by coverage. He’s had knee issues, via CBSSports.com’s Brian Jones, which, along with his weight, are concerns.
But if he can stay healthy, he could be a great addition to this offense.
St. Louis Rams
Key Loss: Shelley Smith, Guard
Key Add: Greg Robinson, Offensive Tackle/Guard
Most readers are expecting Cortland Finnegan as the key loss, but he was awful last season, and the secondary should be fine with Trumaine Johnson and Janoris Jenkins at the corners.
I would say that losing guard Shelley Smith is possibly a bigger deal.
Smith was a versatile player who could work the interior on either side of the center and is an exceptionally good run-blocker. The Rams have a solid line with Jake Long and Joe Barksdale at the tackles and Rodger Saffold at right guard.
Removing Smith leaves a significant hole on the left side though, and you can’t afford that with Sam Bradford in a super-critical year—unless you draft one of the top tackles in the draft and throw him in as a guard, which it appears as if the Rams have done, according to Ourlads' latest depth chart.
He’s actually got a lot in common with Smith—both are better run-blockers than pass-blockers who measure in at between 6’4”-6’5” and weigh in at over 300 pounds.
Of course, at 21 years of age, Robinson has a heck of a lot more upside, and there is no better guy to learn from than Long.
So while losing Smith is an issue, it’s going to be mitigated by the presence of Robinson.
Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him @andrew_garda on Twitter.
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