Who had the best off-season in the NFL ahead of the 2020 season? It’s a fair question on its own, but even more so after we laid into the worst of the worst in our previous installment. That list included two members of the NFC North and one AFC South representative. This time around, three divisions are represented and we still span both conferences.
2020’s Best NFL Off-Seasons
3. Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills, who went 10-6, had by far the best 2019 of any of the teams mentioned here. But that in and of itself was a surprise so the efforts made by the front office to make it a regular occurrence is encouraging. It doesn’t hurt they made one of the biggest moves of the offseason and followed our theme of surrounding your young passer with targets.
Maybe it doesn’t really qualify as a free agent acquisition, trading for Stefon Diggs was big time. Their package that included only one pick in the first round is good value; only outdone by the Cardinals nabbing Hopkins. Head coach Sean McDermott didn’t just give his quarterback someone to lean on. He brought in a number of his former Panthers players to further his defense.
In the draft, Buffalo surprised many by going with A.J. Espenesa but they needed a power end who could set the edge. The real smart pick was Zack Moss to pair with Devin Singletary. The diminutive pair should make for a nice crutch for Josh Allen and the passing game. Getting Gabriel Davis in the fourth was also a nice steal.
Buffalo has a path to owning the AFC East now that the Patriots as we know them are no more. But with the Dolphins fast-tracking their rebuild and the Jets still growing around Sam Darnold, it won’t be easy. It appears the front office recognizes this and has set out to ensure they are the next perennial winners of the division.
2. Denver Broncos
Offensive weapons are the name of the game in today’s NFL and in this article. The Denver Broncos off-season has been a terrific example of how to go about stockpiling them. They already have their franchise quarterback and a 1,000-yard receiver and running back in the trio of Drew Lock, Courtland Sutton, and Phillip Lindsay. That didn’t stop them.
Free agency saw the Broncos lose Ronald Leary, Connor McGovern, Chris Harris, and Derek Wolfe (all starters) but replace all four. And in a surprising case of the rich getting richer, they also managed to lure Melvin Gordon over after the division-rival Los Angeles Chargers let him walk. Gordon and Lindsay are the best 1-2 running back combo in the league.
Sometimes the draft just falls in your favor. That happened when Lock fell to Denver a year ago and it happened again in this draft. Jerry Jeudy was in the conversation to be the first wide receiver taken and even a top-five pick. So his falling to 15 is almost inconceivable. Add to that landing KJ Hamler in the second round and you see why Lock was quoted saying the Broncos “…got some stallions”.
Denver went 7-9 with lock going 4-1 completing 64 percent of his passes for 1,020 yards, seven touchdowns, and three picks. That is impressive for a player thought to be too raw to start as a rookie. With a year under his belt and an improved supporting cast, Lock is poised to breakout. It’s too soon to be talking dark-horse MVP candidate, but Offensive Player of the Year, maybe?
1. Arizona Cardinals
An off-season in which a team nabs a versatile, top-tier talent in the draft after stealing arguably the best wide receiver in the league absolutely has to make any list of best off-seasons. When that team’s other moves highlight their desire to improve their porous defense, like the Arizona Cardinals, they have a good shot at “winning” the off-season.
Free agency was too kind to the Cards. DeAndre Hopkins is third in receptions and yards and is second in touchdowns since he entered the league in 2013. All it took to land him was David Johnson’s bloated deal and a mid-round pick. The Houston Texans made the bad version for this list largely on this trade. Adding De’Vondre Campbell, Jordan Phillips, and Devon Kennard should make Chandler Jones happy.
The reinforcement of the defense didn’t stop in free agency, either. Arizona took Isaiah Simmons of Clemson with the eighth overall pick. The versatile defender will play linebacker to start but expect him to line up all over the field in just as he did in college. Getting Houston tackle Josh Jones in the third round is a boon.
If there is one knock on what the Cardinals did it has to be they didn’t add more talent to the offensive line. Adding Jones and free-agent addition Marcus Gilbert is nice, but Kyler Murray took 48 sacks last season. That number will come down as he learns to get rid of the ball quicker or pull it down and run sooner. But the offensive line was not good in 2019. Will it improve in 2020?
Best Off-Seasons of 2020 in the NFL
This was not meant to be a slight to the other teams that had really strong off-seasons. The Dallas Cowboys, Carolina Panthers, and Baltimore Ravens all had great off-seasons as well. But Dallas and Carolina lost Travis Frederick and Luke Kuechly, no small blows, and Baltimore was 14-2 last season. It’s hard to see them winning more games in 2020.