With the 2022 NFL offseason winding down, we are looking back on what transpired and looking forward to what’s ahead.
We’ve reached the dead period when coaches and players go their separate ways and take their last-minute vacations to get away from football until the real grind starts in a month and a half with the opening of training camps. What better time to talk about what we’ve learned this offseason and what we could see in training camps.
Here are some key questions and answers from both of us as we recharge the battery in anticipation of the marathon football season starting a few weeks from now.
Which team improved the most this offseason?
Breer: The Chargers—because of their mix of additions, the promise of improved health and the natural ascent of key young players in their organization. On the first two elements, acquiring Khalil Mack and JC Jackson in free agency, and having Joey Bosa and Derwin James healthy together, should make the defense a lot better than it was last year. And then there’s Justin Herbert’s potential ascension, playing in the same system in consecutive years for the first time since high school, with an entrenched line and a star-studded receiver group around him.
Orr: The Ravens. I wrote this a week ago, but to reiterate: The Ravens saw an opportunity with everyone clamoring for corners, wide receivers and tackles to get players who can be elite, just not at premium positions such as safety (Marcus Williams), center (No 1 pick Tyler Linderbaum) and tight end (Mark Andrews). In the end, overall talent will win. Lamar Jackson didn’t like losing his No. 1 wide receiver, Hollywood Brown, but has to understand it’s for the best.
Which team didn’t do enough this offseason and could struggle this season?
Breer: The Patriots. You might be surprised to hear that—but I look at the attrition in the coaching staff (losing especially OC Josh McDaniels to Las Vegas to coach the Raiders), and an offensive group around Mac Jones that still seems to need a quarterback to elevate it (like Tom Brady could), rather than manage it (like Mac Jones can), and I feel like I’m waiting for Bill Belichick to pull another rabbit out of his hat. Toss in a completely remade linebacker group, and an issue at corner, and I have a lot of questions.
Orr: The Cowboys. I’m surprised, somewhat, that the Cowboys did not punch the accelerator this offseason. After watching both the Rams and Buccaneers take home Lombardi trophies in consecutive years, it’s obvious the formula is amassing a talent glut so significant that no other team can compete. The Cowboys’ young core is rounding into their collective athletic prime. Supplement them with a little more than Dante Fowler.
The free agent move I liked the most was …
Breer: The Bengals signing RT La’el Collins. I like it in part because it happened after they brought in linemen Alex Cappa and Ted Karras—which showed they were willing to go over the top to fix the issue in front of Joe Burrow, one that probably cost the franchise its first Lombardi. Collins is different from anyone Cincinnati had last year, and because he played for Bengals line coach Frank Pollack in Dallas, he arrives as a known commodity. That he’s been a part of elite lines in the past is the icing on the cake.
Orr: CJ Uzomah to the Jets. I was out at camp a few weeks ago and saw Uzomah picking up Zach Wilson and encouraging him to stay focused after a team period. Uzomah is a veteran’s veteran, a player who saved Burrow’s hide more times a year ago than the Bengals would care to admit. Will he put up Gronk-ian numbers? No. Will he bring some veteran leadership to a very, very young locker room? Yes.
The offseason move that could backfire is …
Breer: The Bears letting Allen Robinson and James Daniels go without spending capital to replace them. I might wind up looking dumb here—and it’s not like Chicago doesn’t have any quality receivers (Darnell Mooney is poised to have a huge season) or guards (Cody Whitehair’s plenty capable). But in losing Robinson and Daniels, the Bears lost balance and depth, with guys such as Byron Pringle and Sam Mustipher now on the spot, and that’s going to make it harder for new coach Matt Eberflus and GM Ryan Pace to get a clean read on Justin Fields in Year 2.
Orr: The Browns trading for Deshaun Watson. If he misses a year because of suspension, Watson would return to the NFL after not playing two seasons. That’s an incredible hill to climb for someone who was accustomed to the speed of an NFL game for so long, especially a quarterback. Not to mention, of course, the moral thicket Cleveland has to wade through in the process.
The new head coach I’ve been most impressed with is …
Breer: I really like how Nathaniel Hackett’s already had a really good impact in Denver—from how he’s building the offense for Russell Wilson to the energy he’s bringing into the building. Add to that a really capable staff stocked with young, rising assistants, and I think the Broncos are going to be in the running in a rugged division that has four teams capable of making the playoffs.
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Orr: Mike McDaniel. The Dolphins head coach can recruit, and despite what you may think about Tyreek Hill’s comments on Tua Tagovailoa’s accuracy and how they could almost certainly backfire, he is already creating a sense of comfort around the quarterback. Tagovailoa has been hung out to dry by this organization for far too long.
The player I’ve heard the most about during offseason workouts is …
Breer: There are two second-round safeties worth keeping an eye on: Houston’s Jalen Pitre and Chicago’s Jaquan Brisker. I’ve heard Pitre looks smooth, natural and ready at the position. And Brisker has physically stood out for the Bears, bringing imposing stature to the secondary for a guy with the range to play centerfield.
Orr: Daniel Bellinger, Giants: The Giants haven’t had a dominant tight end presence on a year-to-year basis since Kevin Boss/Jake Ballard. Bellinger is going to be more than just a pass catcher. Early reports out of East Rutherford show a do-everything player who can help fill in the cracks of a top-heavy Giants roster that didn’t function as a complete offense under former GM Dave Gettleman.
The draft pick or draft class I’m most excited to see in training camp is …
Breer: The Packers’ class. Quay Walker and Devonte Wyatt are jumping from a historic college defense into the NFL, and both have physically impressed already in Green Bay. And while he’s a little raw, the comp I’ve heard for second-round pick Christian Watson is Vincent Jackson, the former Charger and Buccaneer. I’ll be interested to see if all three, each taken inside the top 40, can contribute right away. With the caveat that they haven’t put pads on yet, it sure sounds like the Packers think it’s possible.
Orr: Malik Willis, Titans. Who knows what is going to happen? The Titans are already wading through the awkwardness of receiver Treylon Burks’s minicamp. Will they also be dealing with an obvious sea change in power at the QB position? Could Willis blow the Titans away during training camp and unseat Ryan Tannehill? If any team in the NFL is a true meritocracy, the Titans are it. Willis can earn the job.
My offseason MVP is …
Breer: Buccaneers GM Jason Licht. No need to overcomplicate this. He had a roster full of win-now talent and no quarterback at the end of January. By mid-March, the greatest one to buckle a chinstrap was back on the roster. And it happened in large part because Licht (and Bruce Arians, for that matter) held the line and made it clear he’d play in Tampa or nowhere. That’ll put the Bucs in the running for a second championship in three years. Being there required one thing above all others, and that was getting Brady back, and Licht facilitated it.
Orr: Ravens GM Eric DeCosta. If this draft class pans out the way I think it will, DeCosta could have two of the best draft classes of the past 20 years since 2018 (the last being Lamar Jackson, Orlando Brown Jr., Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst, Bradley Bozeman) . The ’22 class of Kyle Hamilton, Tyler Linderbaum and David Ojabo has a nice ring to it at the moment.
If I had the first pick in any fantasy draft, I’d select…
Breer:Jonathan Taylor. As the guy who predicted Taylor would win the rushing title before last year—call that a blind squirrel finding a nut—I’d be trying too hard to go anywhere else with this pick. Going back to Wisconsin, Taylor’s never had an issue carrying an offense, and I think he’ll do it again this year, helping to pave the way for a Matt Ryan renaissance in Indy.
Orr: Taylor. Pretty obvious, but Taylor is going to mash in 2022. Ryan is one of the most prevalent checkdown throwers in the NFL. A back who can catch and move in space will almost assuredly benefit, helping him build off a stunning ’21.
If I could change one thing about the NFL offseason it would be …
Breer: Flip the draft and free agency. It’ll never happen, of course, because having free agency first gets money in players’ pockets faster, and there’s no way the union will sign off on going away from that (plus having the draft later allows the NFL to stretch out the calendar ). But to me, it’s way more logical to have teams build hitting the value-based market (the draft) before the needs-based market (free agency). And better rosters would mean better football.
Orr: Giving players more time off. Make coaches available to the people who need help. Otherwise, allow players more time to really decompress from a sport that is mentally all-encompassing and tends to wear people down so much faster than before.
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