Scott MacHenry
Staff Writer

In a tumultuous week filled with suspended sports, high anxiety, and social distancing, the NFL offseason forged ahead as scheduled.  Beginning back on March 16, 2020, teams were allowed to place players under the franchise tag, make trades, and negotiate free agent contracts.  Despite contracts being handled remotely and many physicals getting delayed until after the COVID-19 craziness settles down, a glut of significant roster moves were still made this week.  

A Whole New Meaning to TB12

For the past 20 seasons, Tom Brady has been the face of the NFL.  He has given Patriot Nation countless magical moments and opposing fans a dynasty to universally root against.  Brady led the New England Patriots to six Super Bowl titles in nine appearances.  Every football fan knows the stories, the legends of Tom Brady.  Yet, for all his greatness, TB12 never saw free agency until this year.  At 43 years old, Tom Brady was finally on the open market. 

Wednesday morning, Brady put his rich history behind him, both the good and bad, the championships, and the team-friendly deals, the miraculous comebacks and the rumored friction with head coach Bill Belichick, and officially left the Patriots.  He posted a heartfelt farewell to a grieving Patriots Nation across his social media, although a new destination was already in mind, Tampa Bay.

Indeed, shortly thereafter, Brady signed a two-year, $50 million deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  It’s a dramatic shift for TB12, who transitions to a different conference, a more competitive division, and warmer weather.  The Buccaneers shouldered little expectations over recent years, but with Brady’s arrival expectations have increased greatly. 

Tampa Bay was already a young, talented team, they were just saddled with Jameis Winston, a mediocre quarterback at best.  A 7-9 team last season, Tampa Bay lost six games by a touchdown or less.  Subtracting Winston and adding Brady should benefit the Buccaneers record greatly.  Plus, they have a plethora of offensive weapons, a criticism Brady had of New England last year.  Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are two deep threats that can spread the defense, and O.J. Howard is a quick, reliable tight end that should get more touches with Brady, who often utilizes his tight ends. 

Although the Buccaneers aren’t perfect – their offensive line has holes and the defense needs experience – TB12 suddenly makes Tampa Bay relevant contenders in the NFC.  

The Great Dallas Debate

The Dallas Cowboys are one of the most curious NFL teams.  They have so much talent on the offensive side of the ball, yet Dallas only went 8-8 last season and failed to make the playoffs.  Many blamed former head coach Jason Garrett, who sat running back Ezekiel Elliott during crucial fourth quarter plays that helped determine the Cowboys’ season.  Dallas entered the offseason with more questions than answers.  Garrett was fired and both franchise QB Dak Prescott and star WR Amari Cooper were free agents.

Dallas spent months negotiating with Prescott’s representatives on a long-term contract, but on Monday, the Cowboys placed the franchise tag on their star quarterback.  By tagging Prescott, it freed up the Cowboys to spend more money on weapons, and Dallas immediately re-signed Cooper to a monster five-year, $100 million contract.  Still, it begs the question – will Dallas ever pay Dak Prescott?

The Cowboys gave big bucks to Elliott and their terrific offensive line but appear hesitant to pay Prescott what he’s worth.  Dak fulfilled the final year of his rookie contract last season without fuss.  He played for only two million dollars, trusting in his performance and believing the team would reward him.  Statistically, Prescott put up memorable numbers in 2019.  He was 2nd in yards (4,902), 4th in touchdowns (30), and 4th in quarterback rating (70.2). 

The ball is in Prescott’s court now.  He can accept the franchise tag and continue negotiating with Dallas, working towards a resolution both sides can agree on.  Or Prescott can do what his teammate Ezekiel Elliott did and avoid all team activities and not show up to training camp, while demanding a long-term contract.  At this point, team owner Jerry Jones knows Dak’s level of play and should pay him accordingly.       

Hoppin’ to Arizona

The biggest trade of the week occurred as soon as the offseason began. The Houston Texans traded star WR DeAndre Hopkins and a 4th round pick to the Arizona Cardinals for running back David Johnson and two draft picks.  This is the first trade for head coach and general manager Bill O’Brien and it is controversial, to say the least. The Hopkins trade has been widely panned by experts and enraged Houston fans, who simply don’t understand trading away one of the league’s elite wide receivers.

For the Texans, this trade doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  DeAndre Hopkins has been Houston’s top offensive weapon and quarterback Deshaun Watson’s number one target.  He’s a very healthy player, having participated in all 16 games in five of his seven seasons.  The Texans desperately need a run game to balance their sizzling passing game and David Johnson, when healthy, is a great running back.  The problem is that recently Johnson has struggled to stay on the field.  Houston can afford losing Hopkins with wide receivers Kenny Stills and Will Fuller still on the roster, but having other good players does not rationalize trading a star player.

For the Cardinals, they are slowly building a budding team around quarterback Kyler Murray.  Arizona has been stuck in rebuild mode for a couple years and have the misfortune of playing in the same division as the 49ers, Seahawks, and Rams. As a rookie last year, Murray outperformed expectations, likely giving Arizona the confidence to make this trade. Now the Cardinals can pair DeAndre Hopkins with veteran Larry Fitzgerald and a dynamic receiver corps.  It’s a smart trade that immediately ups Arizona’s competitiveness.     

Ya Digg Buffalo?

The other massive trade benefited the Buffalo Bills, who had themselves an awfully good week. The Bills, already an up-and-coming team, got a huge boost when Tom Brady left the Patriots, leaving a vacancy at the top of the AFC East. The Bills then acquired WR Stefon Diggs from Minnesota Vikings for a package of four draft picks that included the Bills’ first-round pick in the 2020 draft. Thrilled to be getting an upgrade at receiver, Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen right away tweeted out, “Ya Digg?”

This trade helps out both teams involved. The Bills, low on star power, get an electrifying receiver that can change the game with one mad dash to the end zone. Diggs is a huge improvement for Buffalo on offense and looks to form a quick connection with Josh Allen, still a young, developing player. Stefon Diggs’ acquisition solidifies the Bills as an AFC contender not to be taken lightly.

By trading Diggs for a variety of draft picks, the Vikings should feel good too.  Diggs was becoming a problem in the locker room, calling out the playcallers and quarterback Kirk Cousins multiple times.  The Vikings sided with Cousins, rewarding his 2019 playoff run with a two-year contract extension and shipped Diggs to Buffalo.  Minnesota still has terrific reciever Adam Thielen to catch Cousins’ passes and sits in excellent position to make a splash at the draft, currently holding 12 draft picks, including a pair of first-rounders now.

   QB Carousel

Aside from the Brady news, there were a handful of other QBs on the move as well.  Veteran Philip Rivers decided to move on from the Chargers, his home for the last 16 years.  Rivers signed a one-year, $25 million deal with the Indianapolis Colts.  The Colts have plenty of talent and might be a better QB away from winning the AFC South.  Rivers can provide the rare combination of leadership and skill Indianapolis was missing after Andrew Luck’s retirement.

The Carolina Panthers picked up Teddy Bridgewater on a three-year, $63 million contract, essentially replacing Cam Newton.  Newton, still on the roster, has since asked to be traded.  After tearing his ACL in 2016, Bridgewater struggled to find the field until he emerged as one of the league’s top backup QBs for the New Orleans Saints in 2018 and 2019.  Last season when he started for the injured Drew Brees, Bridgewater went 5-0.  Now with Carolina, Teddy gets to be the full-time starter and put his imprint on a rebuilding team.         

Super Bowl LII hero Nick Foles was traded to the Chicago Bears following one dreadful season with the Jacksonville Jaguars.  Last spring, Foles signed a four-year, $88 million deal with a Jaguars, an obvious mistake in retrospect.  Foles broke his collarbone in week one and only played again because rookie Gardner Minshew struggled late in the season. 

With Chicago, Foles finds a fresh start and a QB competition.  The Bears current quarterback is Mitchell Trubisky, but an awful sophomore season has the fans ready to run him out of town and rumors are swirling that head coach Matt Nagy, who did not draft Trubisky, wants to replace him.  The Bears are built to win now and if Nick Foles outshines Trubisky early, he should be the starter.

Lots of moves have been made and tons more will follow, in free agency, the trade market, and via the draft.  Already the new faces in new places have heightened excitement for the 2020 NFL season.  If the coronavirus doesn’t adversely affect the season, they should provide some fun, new storylines to follow.