Keeping track of NFL player movement is hard at the best of times, let alone in the midst of a global pandemic. It’s easy enough to see something in March about DeAndre Hopkins playing in Arizona this season, it’s another to actually envisage how he’ll fit in to the Cardinals’ offense after dealing with 3 months worth of quarantine.
Long story short, there’s been more pressing things in life to think about than whether or not Nick Foles will look good in a Chicago Bears jersey.
With training camps scheduled to go ahead in less than two weeks, though, now is the perfect time to get your head around which players have moved where and what to expect when they take the field in their new homes. Here’s our list of the 10 we’re looking forward to seeing the most.
Tom Brady, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Came From: New England Patriots
Okay, okay. You probably did hear about this one.
Tom Brady turns 43 (FORTY THREE!!!) in August, which has led some to posit that his move to Tampa might be as part of some sort of mid-life crisis. Or, alternatively, he just got really, really sick of dealing with Bill Belichick.
Brady left New England after the best two decade run in sports history, which is what makes this move to the Buccaneers so damn intriguing. The Tampa franchise has spent most of its NFL existence as a mediocre afterthought in the stacked NFC South and if there’s one thing we know about Tom Brady it’s that he detests mediocrity.
Despite this appearing to be a weird match on paper, in reality it actually makes a tonne of sense. Bruce Arians is a renowned quarterback-collaborator as a head coach, the defense is improving exponentially under the tutelage of Todd Bowles and the receiving corps is – arguably – one of the best in the league.
That being said, the Bucs haven’t made the playoffs since 2007, and last year Jameis Winston threw more pick-sixes (seven) than Brady has had in the last decade. Rob Gronkowski joins Brady in Tampa but his best years are clearly behind him and there are a stack of unanswerable questions about Brady’s declining arm strength.
At worst this team is entertaining as anything. At best they might be a Super Bowl threat. What’s not to like?
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Carolina Panthers
Came From: New Orleans Saints
Teddy Bridgewater started in a grand total of five games last season, and yet someone in Carolina saw enough in the former Louisville Cardinal to throw him a three-year, $63 million mega deal.
Some would say that’s a ridiculous amount of money for an injury-prone, unproven, traditionally-conservative quarterback. Others would say the Panthers saw something they liked and made it happen.
Either way, Bridgewater – assuming he stays healthy – will start in Carolina this season with former LSU passing coordinator Joe Brady now at the helm of the Panthers’ offense. Brady’s notoriously adventurous passing strategies are an intriguing match for Bridgewater’s typical dink and dunk tactics and we can’t wait to see what unfolds.
Does Bridgewater have what it takes, or was he a product of the system in New Orleans?
Todd Gurley, RB, Atlanta Falcons
Came From: Los Angeles Rams
Is Todd Gurley’s career destined to always be remembered as curtailed by injuries, or can he make a run (pardon the pun) of it in Atlanta?
Gurley – who turns just 26 next month – was a star for the Rams before being cut down by chronic knee problems. He was released by LA in March, not even two years after signing a monstrous contract extension which paid $45 million in guarantees.
The Falcons signed Gurley to replace longtime franchise staple Devonta Freeman and it’s really no surprise to see them taking a flier on a guy who was once the best in the NFL. With Matt Ryan under centre, Atlanta threw the most passes of any team in the league in 2019 and it’s hard to see them changing strategies to accomodate Gurley’s needs, or more accurately, Gurley’s knees.
Despite all his problems, Gurley still touched the ball almost 17 times a game last season and is clearly still an elite back when healthy. This is his last chance to prove himself at the top level and the Falcons have nothing to lose.
David Johnson, RB, Houston Texans
Came From: Arizona Cardinals
David Johnson’s 2016 may go down in the record books as one of the biggest one-offs of all time; 2,118 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns is no joke, but the fact that he has just 2,191 yards and 16 touchdowns total since then is mindboggling.
Johnson and his monstrous cap hit – the second highest amongst ALL running backs in the league – were traded from Arizona to Houston in the deal that netted the Cardinals DeAndre Hopkins (more on him below). The Houston backfield situation is surprisingly good, with last year’s No.1 back Carlos Hyde putting up 1,000+ yards for the first time in his career in 2019.
If Johnson can keep healthy we might see some decent production out of him this season on a Texans team which is capable of making a run in the AFC.
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Arizona Cardinals
Came From: Houston Texans
Letting well alone the absolute atrocity that was the deal negotiated by Texans’ GM Bill O’Brien to get rid of his star wide receiver, the fit of Hopkins in Arizona is exciting.
One of the league’s best wide receivers is now paired with second-year phenom Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury’s infamous Air Raid offensive system. Per Pro Football Focus, the Cardinals ran 216 plays last year which had personnel consisting of four wide receivers and no tight ends; unsurprisingly that was far and away the most in the NFL.
As the year went along Kingsbury moved away from his system, but now with Hopkins, Christian Kirk, Larry Fitzgerald and some promising young talent there’s every chance he doubles down in 2020. Hopkins must be licking his lips.
Stefon Diggs, WR, Buffalo Bills
Came From: Minnesota Vikings
Diggs well and truly outstayed his welcome in Minnesota and now finds himself in Buffalo, as Bills’ GM Brandon Beane makes a valiant attempt to build an AFC contender around the enigmatic Josh Allen.
Despite a lot of chatter about Allen’s cannon of an arm, he was actually one of the NFL’s worst deep-ball threats last season. With that in mind, Beane’s acquisition of one fo the NFL’s best deep-threat receivers in Diggs makes complete sense. Diggs pulled in 1,130 yards receiving in 2019 and was second to only Michael Thomas in yards per route run.
With Diggs and John Brown on the outside and Cole Beasley and Dawson Knox working the middle we may be about to see the emergence of Allen as a passing threat.
Trent Williams, OL, San Francisco 49ers
Came From: Washington ???s
Williams has been the best football player in Washington for the best part of a decade, but was run out of town after a very public, very bitter dispute with the team over a medical issue. Long story short he wasn’t happy, and despite the team-formerly-known-as-the-Redskins refusing to trade him for months he eventually ended up in San Francisco, and will reunite with former OC Kyle Shanahan.
Hilariously, per multiple reports, San Francisco’s LT stalwart Joe Staley reportedly delayed his retirement announcement until after Williams’ deal with the 49ers was confirmed, preventing Washington from pushing up the asking price.
Anyone get the vibe that the Redskins franchise isn’t well liked?…
DeForest Buckner, DL, Indianapolis Colts
Came From: San Francisco 49ers
It might’ve seemed a bit strange to many that Buckner – the 49ers’ defensive captain and a criminally underrated piece of their defensive line – was shipped off by San Francisco, but in the end the deal made sense for both sides.
The 49ers used the pick they got from Indy (13) to draft Javon Kinlaw, a DT out of South Carolina. Kinlaw is essentially a bargain basement replacement for Buckner, who Indianapolis will paying more than $20 million to annually.
That being said, it wasn’t a bad deal for the Colts, who now have that interior presence they were so sorely lacking last year. If their pass rushing group can stay healthy, look out. This now looks like a fearsome line.
Darius Slay, CB, Philadelphia Eagles
Came From: Detroit Lions
The Eagles have needed CB help for years, and finally get it now with Slay.
Philly made the shrewd decision to pass on Jalen Ramsey and wait for a good deal with Slay, which they got. He’s one of the better cover corners in the NFL and while his stats under Matt Patricia weren’t great, none of the Lions really have thrived as yet in that system.
The Eagles are paying Slay $43 million for the next three years so they clearly believe he’s their guy. For the Lions, this is another disaster. They’ve now traded away two of their best defensive backs for peanuts and haven’t received anything better than a third round pick.
Both teams now carry extra interest in their secondary as a result.
Malcolm Jenkins, CB, New Orleans Saints
Came From: Philadelphia Eagles
Jenkins began his career with the Saints last decade and won a Super Bowl with them in 2009. This is a poetic homecoming, made even sweeter by Sean Payton’s reported regret about letting Jenkins walk to Philadelphia in the first place.
Jenkins spent six years in Philly but now returns to New Orleans on a three-year, $24 million deal. He’s become one of the NFL’s loudest social justice activists and is a perfect fit for the void left by Vonn Bell, who left the Saints for the Bengals in free agency.
This New Orleans team was already stacked and Jenkins makes it look even better.
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Image by: Jack Newton