1. Vikings land Kirk Cousins with landmark contract
Even for a general manager who is no stranger to aggressive moves, this was a new one. All $84 million of Kirk Cousins’ new three-year contract is guaranteed, a first in football. So Rick Spielman was willing to make some history to get his man. Will it pay off? Cousins is the Vikings’ best quarterback since Brett Favre. That does not mean he is a top-10 quarterback right now. You could credibly claim that he’s not. Sporting a loaded roster to go along with an elite coach, the Vikings just want Cousins to be better than Sam Bradford and Case Keenum as they hunt for their first Super Bowl appearance since 1976-77.
2. Brandin Cooks traded for second time in two years, this time to the Rams
Brandin Cooks’ one-year layover in New England was a success, but not enough to convince the Patriots to hand out a long-term deal. Now he’s on the Sammy Watkins plan, looking to get paid as he catches passes from one of the most conservative quarterbacks in the league in a contract year. Still only 25 (in September), Cooks offers both upside and proven production. 2017 was his third-straight 1,000-yard campaign. He has the ability to erase the Rams’ memories of Watkins if Jared Goff will allow it.
3. Redskins take Alex Smith off the Chiefs’ hands
The Redskins liked Kirk Cousins enough to pay him $43.8 million over the past two seasons but not enough to give him a long-term contract. Bold? Having seemingly taken personal offense to Cousins’ betting on himself and winning, the Redskins let him walk before trading a third-rounder for Alex Smith. They then proceeded to give the ex-Chief a whopping $71 million guaranteed. Smith is coming off a career year, but it was not enough to keep him in Kansas City. He turned 34 in May. You could argue Smith has a higher floor than Cousins. It’s not up for debate that he has a lower ceiling.
4. Jets trade up for QB Sam Darnold
The Jets traded up for a USC quarterback. What’s the worst that could happen? Mark Sanchez may have ended up a punchline, but Sam Darnold arrives in Florham Park with near-infinite upside. The youngest of this year’s top quarterback prospects, Darnold is a gunslinger who still managed to complete 64.9 percent of his Pac-12 passes. Turnovers were a bit of an issue, but that’s the case for many young quarterbacks. Darnold is a building block the Jets have lacked since the Sanchize decided not to franchise.
5. Giants ignore trade offers for No. 2 overall, select RB Saquon Barkley
The last time a running back went No. 2 overall was Reggie Bush in 2006. Giants GM Dave Gettleman was so sure of his selection he literally did not listen to trade offers. It was a bold, quite possibly foolish move for a franchise that has a 37-year-old quarterback in irreversible decline. None of that changes the fact that Saquon Barkley is, yes, quite possibly a generational talent at his position. The Giants’ process was poor. The result could still be great.
6. Bills make two moves up for QB Josh Allen
When is one trade up not enough? When it’s the Mountain West’s 2017 Honorable Mention quarterback. Desperate to find a longer-term answer under center than Tyrod Taylor, the Bills spent their offseason climbing draft capital mountain. It got them to No. 7 overall, where they landed the quarterback they sought. Bright, with a huge arm, there’s a lot to like about Allen. Inaccurate with unimpressive college stats, there’s also a lot to be scared of. Allen could boom, but in the context of his lofty draft position, there’s an all too real chance he busts.
7. Browns acquire Jarvis Landry, give him $47 million guaranteed
Desperate for weapons and flush with cap space, the Browns splurged on a slot receiver. That’s not typically recommended. For the Browns — who couldn’t have hoped to spend all their money this offseason — it felt alright after going 0-16 in 2017. Fresh off leading the NFL in receptions, Landry doesn’t get a ton of bang for his buck — 10.1 yards per grab for his career — but has tough hands and does work after the catch. Along with Baker Mayfield, Josh Gordon, Carlos Hyde and Nick Chubb, he’s going to help make the Browns a lot more watchable in 2018.
The Bears whiffed badly in letting Alshon Jeffery walk, replacing him with a host of also-rans that made life miserable for Mitchell Trubisky as a rookie. GM Ryan Pace tried to atone this offseason, making Robinson the headliner of a complete skill corps makeover. Although he’s still only 25 (in August), Robinson is no sure thing. He’s coming off a torn ACL and was bafflingly disappointing his last full season in 2016. The Bears are betting on a return to Robinson’s 80/1,400/14 form from 2015.
9. Cardinals jump into top 10 for QB Josh Rosen
The Cardinals made it through the Bruce Arians era by keeping Carson Palmer taped and glued together, all the while knowing they had to find a real franchise quarterback. Arians is gone, but Josh Rosen has arrived. He’s being counted on not just to replace Palmer, but to be the kind of future-of-the-team player under center the Cardinals have lacked since probably Jake Plummer. No pressure.
Completely revamping their post-Alex Smith approach, the Chiefs signed Sammy Watkins to give opposing defensive backs nightmares on both sides of the field. The Chiefs are now blindingly fast deep, an attribute that should play into aggressive quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ strengths. Mahomes has a cannon and loves to use it. Watkins has disappointed more than once in his career, but at least on paper, he’s a perfect fit for what Andy Reid is now trying to accomplish in the post-Smith era.
When a Shanahan chooses a running back, you take notice. Unsatisfied with Carlos Hyde, Kyle Shanahan swapped him out for Jerick McKinnon, a potential three-down dynamo who has always tantalized but never quite broken through. Shanny believes McKinnon is ready to be a factor on all three downs. Long loved in fantasy, McKinnon might finally return the favor in 2018.
The Titans are keeping their running back committee, but replacing last year’s thunder-thunder backfield with a proper thunder-and-lightning duo in Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis. Of course, Lewis proved last season that he’s more than capable of banging between the tackles. That’s unlikely to be his role in Tennessee, but he’s a unique back who can do whatever the offense requires. In 2018, that should be catching passes and changing the pace with big plays.
13. Broncos sign Case Keenum to keep the quarterback seat warm
The Vikings gave Kirk Cousins an historic contract for the honor of moving on from Case Keenum. The Broncos gave Keenum Mike Glennon money for the necessity of moving on from Trevor Siemian. Keenum is a limited player, but as was established last season, you can win with him. The Broncos aren’t looking for ceiling. They just need Keenum to hit his 2017 floor.
14. Redskins make Paul Richardson rich
Paul Richardson is a 26-year-old burner who had never exceeded 300 yards before 2017. Injuries were mostly to blame. Now, he will be dealing with Alex Smith, a conservative quarterback, albeit one who finally loosened the reins last season. Although he is being paid handsomely, Richardson should mostly function as a role player in one of the league’s most crowded skill corps.
Trying to move on from last year’s Martellus Bennett debacle, the Packers returned to the open market, signing Jimmy Graham before pairing him with Marcedes Lewis. It will be Graham getting the red zone looks, but Lewis has proven capable of scoring a touchdown or three, too. They’re situational weapons for an offense that has a lot of them.
16. Ravens make Michael Crabtree latest 30-plus No. 1 wideout
The Ravens have never met a 30-year-old receiver they weren’t dying to sign. 31-year-old (in September) Michael Crabtree is the latest. Crabtree is one-dimensional — possession, possession, possession — but it’s a dimension that’s featured a lot of touchdowns. A total of 25 over the past three seasons, to be exact. Crabtree should never be your team’s No. 1 receiver, but he will do just fine as a No. 3 in fantasy.
17. Packers cut Jordy Nelson, Raiders immediately sign him
Is Jordy Nelson done? The only team he’s ever played for apparently thought so, cutting Nelson after he averaged a pitiful 9.1 yards per catch last season. He struggled with both Aaron Rodgers and Brett Hundley under center. Nevertheless, the veteran-hunting Raiders swooped in, preferring 33-year-old Nelson to 31-year-old Michael Crabtree. Only one year removed from a 97/1,257/14 campaign, it’s possible Nelson bounces back, but it’s also possible last year was the cliff, and he fell off.
18. Browns trade for Tyrod Taylor
Underappreciated for the entirety of his Bills’ tenure, Tyrod Taylor arrives in Cleveland as an excellent bridge quarterback to Baker Mayfield. Taylor is conservative to a fault but can make plays with both his arm and legs. He should have a lot to teach his rookie understudy. Once Mayfield inevitably takes over under center, Taylor will be one of the best backups in the league.
Trying to right last year’s Sammie Coates and Victor Cruz wrongs, the Bears thought bigger, signing Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton to go along with signature addition Allen Robinson. Gabriel is a (good) role player, but Burton has long teased massive potential – potential he couldn’t tap behind Zach Ertz in Philadelphia. Don’t be surprised if Burton knocks down the TE1 door.
20. Redskins stop RB Derrius Guice’s slide
Considered by many to be the second-best back in the draft, Derrius Guice was drafted as the seventh, falling to the Redskins at No. 59. The reason why — videogames? — remains unclear. What is clear is Guice’s talent. A power back with 4.49 speed, Guice has the makings of a dangerous early-down complement to third-down back Chris Thompson.
The backfield was part of the Browns’ whole-house remodel, with Isaiah Crowell swapped out for free agent Carlos Hyde and second-rounder Nick Chubb. They’re similar players, which could make for an unpredictable situation on early downs as Duke Johnson continues to handle receiving work. Hyde is probably the better 2018 re-draft bet, with Chubb an obvious Dynasty league asset.
The Panthers got younger and cheaper on early downs, letting Jonathan Stewart walk for $2.95 million guaranteed while snagging C.J. Anderson for $1.75 million. Four years younger, Anderson was the far better player in 2017 and is much more versatile at this stage of his career. GM Marty Hurney is known for overpaying running backs but found himself a steal in CJA.
Even without Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, things are quite crowded in a Jaguars receiver corps that saw both Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook emerge in 2017. With Marqise Lee re-signed, second-rounder D.J. Chark and free agent addition Donte Moncrief could have a hard time making a 2018 impact.
Rebuilding other parts of the roster, the Dolphins decided to reload in the receiver corps, adding Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson to a group that already included DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills and Jakeem Grant. It’s anyone’s guess how all the pieces will fit. The puzzle is unlikely to equal serious fantasy value for any of the five parties.
25. Jaguars make Austin Seferian-Jenkins No. 1 tight end
Austin Seferian-Jenkins averaged just 7.1 yards per catch in his return to relevance last season, but the Jags are buying into his resurgence. Headed to a better team and offense, ASJ should get his YPC up while also experiencing better touchdown luck after last year’s infamously luckless campaign.