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Every year, unforeseen roster moves shake up the NFL. So whether viewed as hot takes or bold predictions, outside-the-box thoughts have plenty of relevance in offseason forecasts.
At this time last year, more mock drafts listed Sam Darnold than Baker Mayfield as the No. 1 overall pick. The Oakland Raiders devastated their fanbase by sending edge-rusher Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears in September. The Los Angeles Rams acquired starting cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters via separate trades.
Often, we know little about discussions behind closed doors among team executives—then bam! We’re hit with surprise trades, intriguing free-agent signings and shocking landing spots for high-profile draft prospects. We’ll probably have a few wow moments in the coming months.
In the spirit of putting together sizzling hot takes, we’ll look at eight bold but believable roster acquisitions. Who could be on the move? How will the quarterback dominoes fall? Is there a legitimate alternative to Ohio State’s Nick Bosa for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 draft?
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We’re three months away from the April 25-27 draft, but top analysts have Bosa projected as the No. 1 overall pick for the Arizona Cardinals—that includes Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller, ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah. Each has Kentucky’s Josh Allen at No. 2 or 3.
What if Cardinals general manager Steve Keim tossed a curveball? After all, Allen played more college games than Bosa (42-29) and finished with an eye-popping 17 sacks last season. Kentucky doesn’t have Ohio State’s pipeline to the pros, but we shouldn’t overlook the former Wildcat.
Allen has a high ceiling, and he projects as a great fit on the edge of the Cardinals’ 3-4 defense under new coordinator Vance Joseph. It’s not that Bosa’s skills wouldn’t translate, but the decision between the two should cause some pause.
The Ohio State product suffered a core muscle injury that sidelined him since September. Meanwhile, Allen wreaked havoc on offensive lines through the Jan. 1 Citrus Bowl. He racked up three sacks against Penn State in his final collegiate contest.
Before penciling in Bosa as the No. 1 overall pick, take a look at Allen’s production over the last three years. It’s bold to go against the consensus, but it’s not implausible to think the Kentucky product could become the top pick.
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It’s no secret the Baltimore Ravens will move on from quarterback Joe Flacco after rookie signal-caller Lamar Jackson helped lead the team to an AFC North title.
Head coach John Harbaugh confirmed as much when he spoke about the 34-year-old as an available talent, per NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala. “Joe can still play,” he said. “… Joe’s going to have a market, a lot of teams are going to want Joe… Joe Flacco is a great talent, he’s a better person, he’s the best QB in the history of the Ravens… he’s going to be just fine.”
According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Ravens will attempt to accommodate Flacco with his preferred destination. “While there’s a chance they could let him walk into free agency, there’s also a very good chance they could try to orchestrate a trade to a team of Flacco’s choice,” he reported (via colleague Kevin Patra).
Flacco likely wants to start. Front office executives should also think about an immediate push to contend—with the veteran quarterback as the missing piece.
The Denver Broncos missed the playoffs for the third consecutive year. On a positive note, the offense features budding talents at wide receiver in Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton along with an upstart backfield. Rookie ball-carriers Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay combined for 1,558 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground. This club could make significant strides with an upgrade at quarterback.
The draft could take care of holes on the interior of the offensive line and at cornerback. Head coach Vic Fangio had a close look at Flacco as a defensive coach in Baltimore in 2008 and 2009.
Denver could release Keenum, who put together a lukewarm 2018 campaign with 18 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions, and save $11 million in cap space, per Over the Cap. Flacco would provide a strong arm and championship experience with three years left on his deal.
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There’s tension between Antonio Brown and the Pittsburgh Steelers following a disappointing 9-6-1 finish outside the playoffs.
Pittsburgh benched the 30-year-old wide receiver for its final game after he had a disagreement with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and then missed team meetings and practices leading up to Week 17’s contest. Brown has removed any trace of the team name from his Twitter account. Steelers president Art Rooney II said it’s “hard to envision” Brown on the club for training camp, per Pittsburgh Post-Gazette‘s Gerry Dulac.
In all likelihood, we’ll see the wideout in a new uniform in 2019. While the San Francisco 49ers seem like a trendy choice for a landing spot, the Green Bay Packers will have a projected $33 million in cap space, per Spotrac; they could opt to add a significant boost to the aerial attack.
Rookie fifth-rounder Marquez Valdes-Scantling tied for third on the team with Randall Cobb, who’s set to become a free agent, in receptions (38) and finished third in yards (581).
The Packers can put their hopes in Valdes-Scantling’s development, but they can also pair arguably the NFL’s best wide receiver with its most talented quarterback. Brown would post huge receiving numbers while catching passes from Aaron Rodgers.
Wide receiver isn’t a strong need in Green Bay, but a Rodgers-Brown connection could tear through pass defenses for years.
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Houston Texans running back Lamar Miller had a solid year, accumulating 973 yards and five touchdowns on 210 carries, but he faded down the stretch.
Miller battled an ankle injury late in the season, and the Texans offensive line isn’t a top-notch group. Nonetheless, the 27-year-old has been a run-of-the-mill asset since he signed with the team in 2016. He’s averaged 4.1 yards per carry over the last three years and provided minimal impact in the passing game.
If the Texans release Miller, they would save $6.2 million in cap space, per Over the Cap. The front office could toss some money at running back Le’Veon Bell to take over as the lead ball-carrier; D’Onta Foreman would serve as the change-of-pace back.
Bell can fill the pass-catching void out of the backfield and help a shaky offensive line in pass protection. Quarterback Deshaun Watson took the most sacks (62) in 2018.
After taking a year off from football amid a contract dispute with the Steelers, the two-time All-Pro would go to Houston on fresh legs as an immediate upgrade and dynamic asset.
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Quarterback Kyler Murray declared for the 2019 draft, but he can still play for the Oakland Athletics if he chooses to. The baseball club drafted him No. 9 overall last June.
According to Rapoport, scouts project Murray as a second- or third-round pick. Of course, these assessments come before the NFL Scouting Combine and pro days. There’s room for a rise or fall. If the Oklahoma product impresses at his workouts, the Jacksonville Jaguars, desperate for a new signal-caller, may be the team to take the 2018 Heisman Trophy winner in the first round.
For scouts, Murray’s height (5’10”) could raise concerns. He must be able to see the field over massive offensive linemen, move outside the pocket or have a heightened trajectory on his release to avoid batted passes at the line of scrimmage.
The ability to play quarterback at a height under 6’0″ isn’t impossible—just look at Russell Wilson (5’11”) now and Doug Flutie (5’10”) in his prime nearly 20 years ago, but they’re outliers.
On the other hand, Murray has shown accuracy (69 percent completion rate) and mobility (1,001 rushing yards), which may intrigue teams. A dual-threat quarterback paired with a power ground attack could be the recipe for success or a failed experiment that costs Jacksonville head coach Doug Marrone his job.
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The Seattle Seahawks stood their financial ground and didn’t offer safety Earl Thomas a new deal during his offseason holdout. He played four games and broke his leg, and if the sides couldn’t agree on a deal beforehand, it probably won’t happen in March when the three-time All-Pro becomes an unrestricted free agent.
Before Thomas’ injury, he provided quality coverage, snagging three interceptions and breaking up five passes. The 29-year-old can still be a solid piece on a contending team.
Last year, Los Angeles took an aggressive approach in acquiring talent, landing cornerbacks Peters and Talib as well as wide receiver Brandin Cooks in trades. General manager Les Snead also signed Ndamukong Suh to a one-year, $14 million deal. Thanks in part to their win-now offseason moves, the Rams advanced to Super Bowl LIII. And they’ll have a projected $36.3 million to spend in the offseason, per Spotrac.
Last year, the Rams franchise-tagged safety Lamarcus Joyner on a deal worth $11.3 million. He’s coming off an underwhelming season, logging three pass breakups and an interception. Los Angeles allowed 31 touchdowns through the air. Thomas’ ability to take the ball away could appeal to the front office in March. There’s also the revenge factor in NFC West matchups for the ninth-year veteran.
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According to Miami Herald‘s Barry Jackson, it’s possible the Miami Dolphins will part ways with quarterback Ryan Tannehill: “The Miami Herald reported Sunday that the Dolphins are prepared to move on from Tannehill after seven seasons instead of paying him the $19 million he’s owed each of the next two seasons and carrying a $26.6 million cap hit next season. None of that money is guaranteed.”
Keep in mind the Dolphins haven’t announced their new hire at head coach. It’s expected New England Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores will accept the position once his team’s playoff run ends.
Until there’s a press conference with questions about and answers regarding Tannehill’s future, this is only speculation. However, Jackson’s report offers the possibility we could see a new face behind center in Miami for the 2019 campaign.
If quarterback Teddy Bridgewater tests the market and looks for a starting job, Miami may garner his attention. He’s a native of the city, and Tannehill’s exit would likely ensure the 26-year-old will be the starter for at least one full year.
Since suffering a torn ACL and dislocated kneecap in August 2016, Bridgewater appeared in one contest for the Minnesota Vikings in 2017, spent the 2018 offseason with the New York Jets and started one game for the New Orleans Saints in the regular-season finale. The Dolphins could offer him a shot to show he’s a starter.
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Why would the Oakland Raiders trade for a 30-year-old defensive end during a rebuild? First, the defense desperately needs pass-rushers. The Silver and Black recorded just 13 sacks in 2018.
The Raiders hired assistant coach Brentson Buckner, who served as the defensive line instructor for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2018. Under his tutelage, Jason Pierre-Paul led the team in sacks (12.5) and posted his second-highest total in the category.
The Buccaneers hired head coach Bruce Arians to replace Dirk Koetter; he then added defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.
With the Jets, Bowles utilized a 3-4 base scheme, though he’s comfortable with both three- and four-man fronts, per Scott Smith of the team’s official website. “I’ve coached half of my career in a 4-3, the other half in a 3-4,” Bowles said. “I think you coach according to what kind of players you have and what kind of guys you can put where. We’re going to be versatile, regardless.”
During his eight-year tenure with the New York Giants, Pierre-Paul has lined up in four-man fronts. In fact, Big Blue traded him before defensive coordinator James Bettcher installed a 3-4 base scheme last year.
Bowles may be truthful in his desire to fit the defense to his players’ strengths, but new coaching staffs usually don’t mind turning over the roster with a new vision. Pierre-Paul will carry a $14.7 million cap hit going into his age-30 campaign and won’t have dead money owed in the last two years of his contract, per Spotrac.
As opposed to engaging in a bidding contest with other clubs, the Raiders could offer a middle-round pick for Pierre-Paul, who’s coming off one of his best seasons. Buckner could vouch for and guide the veteran in Oakland.