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Sando: The move from each NFL team’s offseason that I liked the most

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With the major NFL offseason moves complete, I’ve sorted through them all to find a favorite for each team. This was tougher for some teams than for others, especially without anointing freshly minted draft choices. But we’ve got all 32 teams covered.

Signing former Cincinnati Bengals first-round pick Jonah Williams gave the Cardinals an athletic, durable starting tackle at a reasonable rate ($15 million per year), making it easier for the team to use its first-round pick on receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. The 26-year-old Williams fits the relatively young age profile of other free agents the team signed while costing less than top guards signed by teams this offseason. He has experience at left and right tackle, so the Cardinals will move 2022 first-rounder Paris Johnson Jr. to the left side and play Williams on the right.

We don’t have to endorse the Falcons’ usage of the eighth pick in the draft for one quarterback (Michael Penix Jr.) only weeks after spending millions on another (Kirk Cousins), but we can still applaud Atlanta for upgrading the position, which was priority No. 1 this offseason.

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Signing a 30-year-old running back in free agency for $8 million per year usually would not be a great idea, but Derrick Henry’s addition made sense for the Ravens in the context of their offseason. The move signals renewed commitment to the running game after Baltimore lost its way in the playoffs. It also was the type of move that resonates in a locker room, which was needed for the Ravens after the team suffered a talent exodus. Adding Odell Beckham Jr. last offseason served a similar purpose. Henry will likely deliver more on the field than Beckham did.

Trading Stefon Diggs instead of prolonging a broken marriage allowed the Bills to set a new course on offense. Yes, they are worse on paper at receiver, but they might not be worse on the field, based on what Diggs gave them late last season. Removing Diggs could promote a welcome cultural reset in Buffalo.

Acquiring receiver Diontae Johnson from Pittsburgh for nothing of consequence was an under-the-radar move with upside for all. Johnson, two years removed from his breakout 1,161-yard season, turns 28 in July and is entering the final year of the two-year extension he signed with the Steelers.

Prioritizing their offensive line to a greater degree would have been the preferred route from my perspective, but once the team decided to prioritize weaponry instead, the focus on adding high-odds targets (Keenan Allen via trade, Rome Odunze in the draft) assured new quarterback Caleb Williams would have reliable targets right away.


Rome Odunze and Keenan Allen will help Caleb Williams right away. (Michael Reaves / Getty Images)

Bringing back Vonn Bell at safety seemed like the surest way the Bengals could restore stability in their secondary. The price was ideal (only $1.21 million, with the Panthers paying the rest of the $6 million Bell was guaranteed for 2024 when they released him), and the fit is assured to be right.

Defensive end Za’Darius Smith played well enough and hard enough in his first season with Cleveland to qualify as more than a one-year rental. Bringing him back on a deal worth $11.5 million per year was a solid move for Cleveland despite Smith’s age (turns 32 in September).

Does resisting an over-the-top extension with Dak Prescott count as a move? If not, hiring Mike Zimmer as defensive coordinator after losing Dan Quinn becomes the choice. Zimmer’s hiring assured Dallas will continue to have a proven defensive caller for its offensive-minded head coach. The Cowboys know what they are getting in Zimmer, who also knows what he is getting into, based on his past association with the organization. It’s probably a good time for a scheme tweak on defense anyway.

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Using the 12th pick in the draft for Bo Nix could qualify as desperation, but with Broncos coach Sean Payton endorsing the move so emphatically, I’m intrigued to see how this plays out. Offensive coaches sometimes love to complain about the quarterbacks they inherit, as Payton did last season. It’s refreshing when they bet their reputations on a prospect, as Payton has done here.

Adding D.J. Reader in free agency to bolster the defensive line comes with injury risk, but his all-out playing style seems like a great fit at a position of need for the Lions, who might need to slow the 49ers’ ground game to reach a Super Bowl.

Xavier McKinney’s addition in free agency was expensive ($16.8 million per year) at a time when the safety market has regressed, but the Packers are getting a 25-year-old emerging star with speed, range and ball skills, at a position they’ve struggled to stabilize. New defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley made it clear upon arriving in Green Bay that he values the free safety position in his defense. Now, it’s up to him to maximize what McKinney can do.

Denico Autry gives the Texans a big (6-5, 285), strong defensive lineman whose advanced age (turns 34 in July) could be misleading. Autry was 24 when he debuted in the NFL. He has averaged 610 snaps per season since 2015. His pressure rate over the past three seasons (12.9 percent) ranks eighth among players listed at 280 pounds or heavier, per TruMedia. Autry set career highs with Tennessee last season in snaps (731) and sacks (11.5). His $10 million average per year was reasonable for what he offers a team that wants to contend now.

Getting the first defensive player in the draft with the No. 15 selection was an ideal scenario for the Colts, who need high-end additions more than role players at this point in their build. Laiatu Latu’s medical concerns are real, but for the second consecutive season, Indy took a huge home run cut in the first round, hoping to finally break from the pack.

Ryan Nielsen’s addition as defensive coordinator stands out. Nielsen made his coordinating debut with the Falcons last season. His defense ranked 10th in EPA per play, the Falcons’ highest ranking since at least 2000, per TruMedia. That was up from 29th in 2022. There’s less room for improvement in Jacksonville, where the Jaguars ranked 11th last season, but Nielsen is inheriting more talent than he had in Atlanta. This could become a top-five unit.

Keeping Chris Jones was critical for the defense, even if it meant trading L’Jarius Sneed to the Titans instead of paying him as well. Kansas City has picked its spots in terms of making some moves for the long term (trading Tyreek Hill) and others for the short term (opening the checkbook for Jones). It’s hard to dispute Jones’ value to the defense, especially in critical situations. Keeping him gives the Chiefs their best shot at winning a third consecutive Super Bowl. The Chiefs’ recent track record developing cornerbacks suggests they’ll be able to replace Sneed.

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Christian Wilkins was expensive, but at least the Raiders did not have to trade for him, the way the Giants had to trade for Brian Burns. Wilkins is an outstanding player whose skill set should fit well in Las Vegas partly because the Raiders’ defensive coordinator, Patrick Graham, was with Wilkins in Miami. This was a high-odds acquisition at a premium position.

Jim Harbaugh gives the Chargers a proven coach with a clear vision for the first time in more than a decade. He was the best hire the team could make without changing its organizational structure.

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The Rams’ renewed commitment to becoming more physical on offense stood out, as the team re-signed one guard (Kevin Dotson) and signed another away from Detroit (Jonah Jackson). Matthew Stafford’s contract situation has yet to play out, but it looks like the Rams are making moves designed to prolong his career, which makes sense.

Adding Odell Beckham Jr. for $3 million, one-fifth the price Baltimore paid last season, stands as one of the better bargains for any team this offseason. Beckham has, through the course of his career, gone from spectacular to overrated to underrated and undervalued. His modest production last season had more to do with opportunities than any shortcomings on his end.

The Vikings finally are putting into place a long-term plan at quarterback. Whether it’s a great plan or a good plan or a bad plan is hard to know right now. But they’ve picked a lane and now can build around J.J. McCarthy instead of going year-to-year with Kirk Cousins while everyone wondered what was coming next.


J.J. McCarthy, 9, and Sam Darnold, 14, lead the Vikings into a new era at quarterback. (Abbie Parr / Associated Press)

Signing Jacoby Brissett so that rookie Drake Maye might not have to play right away buys runway for a team that is rebuilding. Have the Patriots done a better-than-advertised setting up Maye for success? Offensive coaches Alex Van Pelt and Ben McAdoo are veterans with ties to Mike McCarthy, who knows how to develop quarterbacks. Can they bring some of that to New England?

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Making it through the offseason without trading away future draft choices, while still getting a highly rated offensive tackle in No. 14 pick Taliese Fuaga of Oregon State, stands out as a course correction for a franchise that has mortgaged the future too freely in the past.

Acquiring Brian Burns from Carolina without handing over much draft capital (second- and fifth-round picks) helped the Giants mitigate some of the risk associated with paying Burns a deal worth $28.2 million per year. That was certainly a win for the Giants after the Rams reportedly offered two first-round picks and a third-rounder to Carolina for Burns in 2022. Burns was No. 1 on Randy Mueller’s initial rankings of the top 150 players eligible to become free agents.

Signing former Cowboys mainstay tackle Tyron Smith and then using a first-round choice for Penn State tackle Olu Fashanu was solid work in addressing the offensive line for now and the future. It’s been easy to criticize the Jets for their short-sighted focus around Aaron Rodgers. Critics were waiting to pounce if the team used its first-round choice for tight end Brock Bowers. Instead, the Jets did what was sensible.

Signing 26-year-old Bryce Huff in free agency and then trading 29-year-old Haason Reddick to the Jets, who needed to replace Huff, seemed like a case of the Eagles staying one step ahead.

The Steelers finally have a coherent vision on offense following Arthur Smith’s hiring as coordinator. Smith, the first established coordinator the Steelers have employed on offense since Todd Haley’s final season in 2017, arrives after the organization basically failed Kenny Pickett and others on offense in recent seasons. This has to be a major upgrade.

Leonard Floyd is not necessarily a direct replacement for Chase Young in an offseason when the 49ers made multiple changes to their defensive front, but he’s the leading reason San Francisco has arguably upgraded its pass rush. Floyd’s pass-rush snaps (1,796), sacks (39.5) and pressure rate (11 percent) over the past four seasons align with those for Brian Burns (1,688 snaps, 38.5 sacks, 13 percent pressure rate). His $10 million price tag is reasonable.

Mike Macdonald’s hiring should help Seattle make better use of its personnel on defense, but it’s early to know whether the Seahawks will come out ahead without Pete Carroll. From a personnel standpoint, acquiring quarterback Sam Howell on the cheap from Washington seemed like a good opportunity. Howell is signed through 2025 for about $2 million total. From Week 4 to Week 10 last season, he ranked first in passing yards, tied for first in touchdown passes, third in pass completions gaining more than 15 yards and 12th in EPA per pass play.

Keeping franchise icon Mike Evans on a short deal (two years) with a reasonable APY ($20.5 million, which ranks 15th among receivers) seems ideal. Evans finished last season with his third-best single-season mark for yardage (1,255) and second-best for touchdown receptions (league-high 13). He is the only player in NFL history to reach 1,000 yards receiving in each of his first 10 seasons. It’s great when logic prevails in these situations.

Getting offensive line coach Bill Callahan out of his Browns contract so he could join the Titans under his head-coaching son was big for Tennessee, which needs its line to improve overnight.

Good coaches can learn from experience if they have growth mindsets and sufficient time between jobs for reflection. Dan Quinn fits that profile, which is what I like most about his hiring, apart from whatever concerns were raised by the hiring process itself. Quinn experienced both success and failure in Atlanta, then had a successful three-year run as the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator, before getting a second chance.

(Top photos of, from left, Chris Jones and Derrick Henry: Ryan Kang / Getty Images, Kevin Richardson / The Baltimore Sun / Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

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