1. Patriots acquire WR Brandin Cooks from Saints
The Patriots are taking the lid off their army of slot receivers. Chris Hogan was good last season, but Cooks provides a down-field threat the Pats have lacked since Randy Moss. That doesn’t mean that Cooks is one-dimensional, though. He can also do work over the middle, a necessity in an offense that throttles teams with short passes to set up deep shots. Still only 23, Cooks was acquired for both now and the future. He was easily the best player to change teams via trade this offseason. The Patriots’ receiver corps has more than sustained itself with slot machines over the past half-decade, but Cooks’ speed and star power will be a much-welcomed addition.
2. Raiders lure RB Marshawn Lynch out of retirement
When we last left Lynch, he was playing videogames with Conan O’Brien. That didn’t concern the Raiders, who offered Beast Mode $3 million guaranteed to give up his globe trekking and lead their backfield. Even at that modest price, it’s a gamble. Now 31, Lynch averaged 3.75 yards on 111 injury-racked carries in 2015. It’s quite possible his tank is on E. It’s also possible the year away left him refreshed and ready to bulldoze opposing linebackers and safeties. Lynch is a tackle-breaking force like few others in the 21st century. Hopefully he’s ready for Chapter 2 of this comeback story.
3. Bucs get QB Jameis Winston more weapons, adding WR DeSean Jackson and TE O.J. Howard
Winston has posted back-to-back 4,000-yard seasons in spite of his supporting cast. It’s been Mike Evans and then a whole lot of nothing. Sensing their time is now after a 9-7 2016 that saw them finish 6-2, the Bucs have decided to rectify that in a big way, giving Jackson $20 million guaranteed and making Howard the No. 19 overall pick. Both players offer explosive-play ability, and will prevent defenses from bracketing Evans on a weekly basis. They’re additions that had to be made and will pay off both in 2017 and years down the road. Jackson is aging, but Howard has the potential to be one of the league’s top tight ends. The Bucs filled their play-making needs with perfect execution.
4. Eagles sign WRs Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith
The Eagles made an offseason determination: Having zero wide receivers was bad. Enter Jeffery and Smith, damaged goods who nevertheless offer plenty of upside. A 27-year-old jump ball winner, Jeffery’s career has been derailed by injury and suspension, but he’s still only two years removed from posting back-to-back 1,100-yard campaigns. If he’s healthy and focused playing on his one-year deal, he could be among the league’s most productive receivers. For his part, Smith remains one of the NFL’s purest deep threats. He just happened to spend the past two years in historically-bad offenses. Carson Wentz is far from a guaranteed cure-all for either wideout, but the Eagles are what Jeffery and Smith needed, and vice versa.
5. Desperate to move on from QB Jay Cutler, Bears add Mike Glennon and Mitchell Trubisky
Mimicking the 2016 Eagles, the Bears threw everything they had at the quarterback position, overpaying Glennon before overdrafting Trubisky. They now have some darts to throw at the board, but nothing resembling a surefire solution. The Bears were right to address quarterback with a sense of urgency. The problem is that their approach veered toward impatience. Fans will still find it a virtue if either quarterback can play. Glennon has been one of the league’s better backups, while Trubisky is undeniably projectable. We’re talking really projectable, as he’s made only 13 starts since high school. If you’re going to go out on a limb, it might as well be two of them.
6. Seahawks beef up backfield with RB Eddie Lacy
The last year Marshawn Lynch was healthy and productive for Seattle was 2014. By Pro Football Focus’ count, Lynch shed 88 tackles that season, 21 more than any other back. 2014 was also the last year Lacy was healthy and productive, and though he didn’t quite break through walls the way Lynch did, you still weren’t bringing him down with just your arms. Lacy’s 44 broken tackles were sixth in 2014. It’s Lynch the Seahawks are hoping Lacy can replace and that 2014 form they’re hoping he will offer. When healthy and in shape, Lacy is one of the league’s most Lynch-ian runners. He spent the past two years in hibernation but has all the motivation in the world — hello monthly weight clauses — to come out of it. Lacy is one of 2017’s most intriguing bounce-back candidates.
7. Packers sign TE Martellus Bennett
When Jared Cook overplayed his hand in negotiations, the Packers decided to go out and get the good version of him. Aaron Rodgers talked of Cook as something of a 2016 secret weapon. With Bennett, it won’t be a secret. Reinvigorated in New England last season after escaping Chicago, Bennett is coming off a career-high touchdown total (seven), as well as his second-best YPR (12.7). He’s a seam-stretching playmaker joining forces with the league’s ultimate playmaker in Rodgers. Bennett should make a big impact in Green Bay and remain a TE1 for fantasy purposes.
8. Redskins gamble on WR Terrelle Pryor
Faced with replacing DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, the Redskins gave ex-quarterback Pryor $6 million. Pryor produced 1,007 yards in his first full year at wideout, an impressive feat, bordering on heroic considering his quarterbacks. Kirk Cousins will seem like Joe Montana compared to Cody Kessler and Josh McCown. Now settled in at his new position with a much-improved supporting cast, Pryor is one of 2017’s most intriguing players.
9. Saints sign RB Adrian Peterson
The best runner of his generation languished on the open market for six weeks before the Saints pounced with $3.5 million guaranteed. It’s an awkward fit on paper. In his prime, Mark Ingram is coming off his best season. The Saints also used a third-round pick on pass-catcher extraordinaire Alvin Kamara. Peterson drew endless raves for his offseason work, but the reality is he’s 32 in a crowded backfield and has appeared in just 20 games over the past three seasons. Peterson has stunned before. This would be his biggest surprise yet.
10. 49ers lavish $47.5 million on WR Pierre Garcon
You have to start somewhere. 30-year-old Garcon is far from an ideal No. 1 receiver, but he still represents an upgrade for the unbelievably undermanned 49ers. Coming off the second-highest catch (79) and yardage (1,041) totals of his career, Garcon will compile for creative head coach Kyle Shanahan. It’s not going to mean much in “real” football — the 49ers are going nowhere for at least the next two years — but Garcon is going to carry his weight on the fantasy gridiron.
11. Browns bet on WR Kenny Britt
With 1-15 out of the way, the Browns have their sights set on 4-12. That is not to denigrate Britt. He’s a stability signing, someone meant to provide ballast as the young guns find their footing. It’s a role that would have seemed impossible for the injury- and off-the-field issue-riddled receiver as recently as three years ago. Against all odds, Britt has become a professional, one you can count on for 55 catches and 800 yards. He won’t put the Browns over the top, but he will make them more watchable.
12. Patriots sign RBs Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee
As they might say on the internet: All the running backs. Burkhead and Gillislee join James White and Dion Lewis, forming a four-headed monster with some serious juice. How it will all shake out remains unclear, though Gillislee is the favorite to slide into the departed LeGarrette Blount’s “big back” role. Burkhead and Super Bowl MVP White will vie for the honor of primary pass catcher. Lewis, stud though he is, seems to be fourth on the depth chart. His biggest mark could come on special teams. Ever the iconoclast, Bill Belichick has ensured a year of surprises in his backfield.
13. WR Brandon Marshall switches sides at MetLife Stadium
Marshall didn’t have to go far after wearing out his fourth welcome in 11 years. He’s merely switching sides at MetLife Stadium, and offering a touchdown threat opposite Odell Beckham the Giants simply didn’t have in 2016. No longer a star, Marshall could still be a valuable role player for an offense that has to get better.
14. Texans trade up for QB Deshaun Watson
The Texans could have been chastened by the Brock Osweiler debacle. Instead, they went even bigger, surrendering their 2018 first-rounder to move up 13 spots for Watson. Like Osweiler, Watson represents a major gamble. Playmaker though he was at Clemson, Watson displayed sub-NFL ball placement and velocity on film. The Texans are relying on Watson’s innate feel and ability to overcome his glaring limitations. 2017 could be painful as Watson adjusts to the big leagues.
15. Chiefs go big for QB Patrick Mahomes
Tired of the Alex Smith Field Goal Traveling Revue, the Chiefs moved up 17 spots to take a shot on a quarterback of the future. Mahomes is everything Smith is not, possessing daring to match his cannon arm. If he goes down, it will be swinging. Mahomes will begin the year on the bench as he learns finer points they likely overlook in the Big 12, but Smith’s clock is already ticking.
16. Bengals stop RB Joe Mixon’s slide
Mixon is a first-round talent who fell to Day 2 because of a despicable off-the-field act. He could have fallen all the way out of the draft had the Bengals stayed away. They didn’t, and their second-round price point is an indication they plan to feature Mixon from the jump. Both a gifted runner and pass catcher, Mixon has rare physical ability. He’s in position to make the most of his second chance.
17. Titans make WR Corey Davis first receiver off the board
An unfamiliar name outside draft circles, Davis is deserving of his No. 5 overall status. An imposing 6-foot-3, 209 pounds, Davis is an elite athlete who set the NCAA yardage record (5,278) at Western Michigan. Davis’ speed and strength both show up on film. He’s the No. 1 receiver Marcus Mariota has been missing.
18. Bengals draft WR John Ross to pair with A.J. Green
Green lacked a complement after Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu walked in free agency. Ross offers mouthwatering upside as a speed demon opposite a player who commands some of the most double-team coverage in the league. Not that Ross is a one-trick pony. He runs a complete route tree with advanced finesse. Injury was the issue for Ross in college. If he can stay on the NFL field, he will do quite a bit of damage on it.
19. Eagles replace RB Ryan Mathews with LeGarrette Blount
If Mathews hasn’t been released by the time you’re reading this, he will be soon. Blount is the “big back” in Philly, one who will actually stay on the field. If you’re looking for upside, look elsewhere. If you’re looking for a touchdown scorer who will do his job, Blount is your man. Blount should maintain RB3 value in the City of Brotherly Love.
20. Broncos sign RB Jamaal Charles away from Chiefs
What would have been a huge move three years ago came as an afterthought. The owner of the league’s highest active yards per carry (5.45) spent 64 days on the open market. It’s supposedly not even a guarantee that Charles makes the Broncos’ 53-man roster. So, the expectations are low, but the potential payoff is still extremely high. Charles’ health betrayed him in 2015-16, but there’s still a special player in there somewhere if he can get right. Charles offers major fantasy reward at a draft price that comes with little risk.
21. Dolphins reunite TE Julius Thomas with Adam Gase
Thomas scored just nine touchdowns in two years in Jacksonville. The two years prior, he tallied 24 for Gase in Denver. Now 29, with even more injury mileage on his legs, Thomas is not the same player he was in 2014 and won’t have Peyton Manning delivering him the football. He also won’t have Blake Bortles, though, and should strike up an immediate red zone connection with Ryan Tannehill.
22. Raiders add TE Jared Cook
After pricing himself out of the Packers’ plans, Cook still ended up with $5 million guaranteed from the Raiders. Now 30, Cook hasn’t eclipsed 700 yards since 2011, but he made a number of big plays down the seam in 2016. It’s an element the Raiders were missing as they relied too heavily on Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. Cook is a perennial tease who could flame out without Aaron Rodgers throwing him the ball, but Derek Carr won’t be afraid to give him the opportunity to make plays.
23. Patriots acquire TE Dwayne Allen
The Pats bought low on Allen as Rob Gronkowski insurance. Allen is no Martellus Bennett, but he’s better than the disaster he was last year in Indy. When he’s right, Allen offers an above-average blocking and red zone presence. Allen was oversold as a future star, but you’re underselling him if you think he can’t be a difference-maker. Bill Belichick obviously agrees. Allen is an intriguing TE2 lurker for 2017.
24. Browns make an NBA trade, acquire QB Brock Osweiler’s toxic debt
Brock Osweiler is a small price to pay for a second-round pick. That’s the calculation the Browns made when they took on Osweiler’s albatross salary. The move was a pure salary dump by the Texans, the likes of which has never been seen in the NFL. It was an NBA transaction, and an overdue innovation for a league that rarely expands its comfort zone. More rebuilding teams should take the Browns’ lead, taking on misfit toys for the right to extra draft picks.
25. Colts choose TE Jack Doyle over Dwayne Allen
A one-time fantasy annoyance, Doyle emerged as a threat in 2016, posting a 59/584/5 line as he finished as the TE12 by total points. It was enough to convince the Colts to part with Allen and commit to Doyle, a 2013 undrafted free agent. It was perhaps the least likely of outcomes to the Colts’ previous “Coby Fleener or Dwayne Allen?” dilemma. Road blocks out of the way, Doyle should build on his 2017, and has a chance to emerge as a legitimate TE1.
Top 25 Transactions
1. Patriots acquire WR Brandin Cooks from Saints