Top of the Class: Best 2018 Offseason Additions

Kirk Cousins
Kirk Cousins signed as a free agent this offseason with the Minnesota Vikings. Photo Credit: Keith Allison via Creative Commons License.

The 2018 NFL season is getting closer and closer to kicking off. With all the free agent signings and rookie players acquired during the NFL Draft, now is the time to evaluate rosters. Coaches are looking to see how their new pieces are fitting into their teams and some fits are better overall than others.

There were a lot of moves when it came to trades, free agency signings, and rookies being drafted. Some teams have made some pivotal acquisitions through free agency.

Ten players are detailed here about how well they fit with their new teams. These ten players are going to make a big difference to their respective teams getting to the postseason or just staying competitive all season long.

Top of the Class: Best 2018 Offseason Additions

Jimmy Graham, Tight End, Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers always build through the draft. This year with a rookie general manager, Brian Gutekunst at the helm, it was a different story.

Graham joins a list of other free agent tight ends signed by Green Bay, but he hopes to buck the trend of disappointment. Graham recorded one of his best statistical season in Seattle this past year. He scored 10 touchdowns and was one of Russell Wilson’s go-to targets in the red zone.

With Jordy Nelson now wearing silver and black in Oakland, Aaron Rodgers will need to rely on Graham getting open in the end zone. The benefit is Graham can also stretch the field at his size and can really open this offense up.

The Packers will be reliant on Graham, Davante Adams, and Randall Cobb to move the chains. With Graham in the fold, this offense has a good chance of regaining a top ten finish in scoring offense, after finishing 21st last season.

Richard Sherman, Cornerback, San Francisco 49ers
After Sherman was cut by Seattle, he decided to act as his own agent when it came to negotiating his deal with a new team. He met with the 49ers and essentially bet on himself when it came to his new contract.

The better he plays, the more money he can accrue. If he doesn’t perform at a high level, the contract doesn’t hurt the 49ers financially. It’s a win-win situation for both Sherman and the 49ers. The cherry on top of this sundae, is that Sherman is already familiar with the defensive scheme 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh employs from his days as an assistant coach in Seattle.

Even if Sherman does not play at a Pro-Bowl caliber, his knowledge about this defense will be a huge boon for this secondary. The defensive back group in San Francisco is young and inexperienced. Sherman sharing his football IQ with these players will lead to stronger play from the group. This only raises the optimism for a team many are picking to make a return to the playoffs after five long years.

Kirk Cousins, Quarterback, Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings were one game away from playing in a Super Bowl last season. Case Keenum played well in a replacement role, after starting quarterback Sam Bradford went down but the Minnesota front office felt they needed to go in another direction. That direction led them to sign Cousins to fulfill their Super Bowl aspirations.

Cousins was an afterthought when he first arrived in Washington. Robert Griffin III was drafted second overall that same season and Cousins was selected as his backup. This put a chip on Cousins’ shoulder that he needed to prove he could be a starting quarterback in this league. Cousins eventually became the starter, but the Redskins would not commit to him on a long-term deal.

After the Washington front office showed Cousins the door, he flew to Minnesota where he was wanted. Cousins now enters a situation where the team is ready to return to the playoffs and get over the championship game hump. Players like Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, and Kyle Rudolph give Cousins a plethora of weapons to put points on the board.

Couple that with a top five defense and this is a team poised to make another deep playoff run. Cousins has all the tools at his disposal, the question now is if he can live up the high expectations set for him.

Jarvis Landry, Wide Receiver, Cleveland Browns
New general manager John Dorsey and the Browns are not messing around this season. They went out and traded for quarterback Tyrod Taylor, defensive back Damarious Randall, and wide receiver Landry. Bringing in Landry from the Dolphins gives Cleveland a real chain mover and he’s only 25 years old.

Last season, Landry was able to put up career-high numbers in receptions (112) and touchdowns (nine). This is a serious addition as this gives the Browns a dangerous wide receiver tandem in Landry and Josh Gordon.

Whether Taylor or number one overall pick, Baker Mayfield, is under center, this offense will be worrisome for opposing defenses. Landry is only entering his fifth NFL season and he is on a serious upward trajectory.

The best is yet to come for Landry and the only hope is that Cleveland does not squander his meteoric ascent. Players have gotten lost in the futility of this team too many times, so let’s hope Landry does not become another victim.

Andrew Norwell, Offensive Guard, Jacksonville Jaguars
Norwell’s signing by the Jaguars was a message to the league to expect more of a ground attack this coming year. Leonard Fournette was drafted in the first round in 2017 for that reason and will be the every-down back for years to come.

The Jaguars opted to let wide receivers, Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns walk in free agency. Bringing in Norwell to upgrade the left side of the offensive line signals that the Jaguars commitment to a smash mouth offense.

The former undrafted free agent, Norwell comes to the Jaguars after being rated the 12th best offensive lineman last season by Pro Football Focus. Jacksonville was already the best rushing team in the NFL and signing Norwell doubles down that they want to be a run-first team.

While they bring him in to stress the running game, Norwell is also a more than capable pass blocker. He only allowed one sack last season protecting Cam Newton.

Fournette and the running attack may be the priority, but Norwell can bring some more stability in passing situations. This can allow Blake Bortles to be more comfortable in the pocket, which would lead to a more balanced offense. It may have cost the Jaguars $66.5 million over five years, but the benefits Norwell bring will make the contract worth it in the long run.

Demario Davis, Linebacker, New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints seemed to be a juggernaut of a team headed to the Super Bowl, but a last-second play derailed that train. Where the Saints were almost unstoppable on offense, the defense was still middle of the road. Much improved, but they still could use some help.

Bringing in a guy like Davis will shore up one of the weaker points of their defense at linebacker. The former New York Jet enjoyed a career year last season and was rewarded with a three year, $24 million contract to join the Saints.

Davis has experience playing in many defensive styles and will be a leader on day one. He will most likely be taking the helmet communication device and will be in charge of setting the defense every snap. Davis has been an iron man as he played in all 16 games for five straight seasons. That sort of dependability will go a long way in getting the Saints back to an NFC championship game.

Davis is a strong run defender and pass rusher, but his ability to drop into coverage will be tested in this defense. One of the weaker points of his game, Davis is looking to overcome that hurdle and lead this defense and team back to the Super Bowl.

Trumaine Johnson, Cornerback, New York Jets
Head Coach Todd Bowles is a defensive specialist but the numbers reflect poorly on that title. The Jets gave up 382 points (10th worst in the league), allowed 30 passing touchdowns (tied for 2nd worst in the league), and registered only 28 sacks (5th worst in the league). This was a huge reason why they decided to shell out the big bucks to sign Johnson.

This works in fixing a lot of the issues just mentioned. Bowles enjoys blitzing but with such a weak secondary to defend the pass, he couldn’t blitz as often. With Johnson becoming a Jet, this gives Bowles the ability to blitz more regularly which should improve the sack rate.

Johnson is a gifted athlete and is one of the top corners in the league. With the ability to close off one half of the field, this will let the defense be a little more aggressive to the other side of the field. This can result in higher turnover numbers.

Johnson did see his interception numbers go down in the past two years, but his defensive prowess more than makes up for not stuffing the stat sheet. He is also a proven tackler and great at reading the receiver’s body language to break up passes routinely. All in all, this will help the Jets contend in a division that features the ageless Tom Brady.

Mike Pouncey, Center, Los Angeles Chargers
Pouncey is a talented center that was released for asking what he felt he was worth. The Dolphins were trying to save some money and asked Pouncey to restructure his contract. The resulting move led to Pouncey being cut and the Chargers swooping in and signing him.

The Chargers offensive line was successful in the running game, but not as much in the passing game. They lost rookie, Forrest Lamp, to an ACL tear in training camp and fellow rookie, Dan Feeney, looked overwhelmed during the season.

Adding a veteran like Pouncey will help these two young guns become more comfortable on the line. Philip Rivers has never had a strong offensive line to protect him. Having Pouncey as his center now can really assure Rivers that he has time to make solid throws and move the ball down the field.

Rivers has been a steady asset at the quarterback position throughout his career, but this signing makes him even more dangerous under center. This should put the rest of the league on watch. With Pouncey now, this makes the Los Angeles Chargers a strong candidate to capture an AFC West title in 2018.

Trey Burton, Tight End, Chicago Bears
When Odell Beckham Jr. got hurt last season, who went on to lead the New York Giants in targets, receptions, and receiving touchdowns? Rookie tight end Evan Engram did. This matters because the tight end coach with the Giants in 2017, Kevin Gilbride, is now the tight ends coach in Chicago.

Enter Trey Burton. The quarterback of the notorious “Philly Special” touchdown pass in the Super Bowl will now look to establish himself in the league as a legitimate tight end. Coming to the Bears, Burton will operate as a safety net option for young quarterback, Mitchell Trubisky.

Former Oregon Ducks head coach, Mark Helfrich, will be able to utilize Burton in many offensive sets. A perfect complement to current tight end, Adam Shaheen, Burton can stretch the field and get deep down the field.

Shaheen is good for those short passes to gain first downs and can be used as a blocker. Having Burton will allow the offense to have multiple options in the passing game while also giving Trubisky enough time to make smart decisions with the football.

The Bears bringing in Burton just adds to the other smart moves made by the front office including signing Robinson from Jacksonville and drafting Roquan Smith at eighth overall. Chicago is on the rise in the NFL and this offense with Burton in the fold, will be fun to watch every Sunday.

Tyrann Mathieu, Defensive Back, Houston Texans
The Texans faced lots of adversity last season. JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus were both lost to season-ending injuries in the same game. Rookie phenom quarterback, Deshaun Watson, was also lost to an ACL tear during a week nine practice.

To improve the defense in 2018, the Texans went and signed Mathieu to a one-year prove-it deal. Playing in Arizona for his entire career, Mathieu was asked to play multiple positions but he didn’t develop a set of skills for one position and he never became an elite player.

Coming to Houston, defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, will use Mathieu as a full-time safety. Only 26 years old, this is the perfect opportunity for Mathieu to come in and really become an All-Pro safety.

With a solid year, he can earn a big payday in the 2019 offseason. Having young and deep corner depth in Houston will allow Mathieu to not have to worry about swapping roles every week. His speed and solid technique will make him a great safety in this league. Crennel will be able to get the best out of Mathieu and this could lead to the Texans having another top-five finish in opposing yards allowed.