With the draft and most of free agency done, NFL rosters are starting to take shape. Here are five under the radar moves that were really smart.
Safety Eric Weddle to Ravens- The Ravens defense was uncharacteristically bad last year, particularly at the back-end. They were not just plain bad though. They just seemed to give up big plays at the worst possible time. I went back and counted at least four games where they blew a fourth quarter leads and lost. Weddle and the Chargers had a messy falling out last year, he didn’t see the field much due injuries. When the five time All-Pro was ready to go, the Chargers opted not to play him. It was just plain odd. He headed to the Ravens via free agency after the season wrapped up. When he is on the field, he is always around the ball and among league leaders for tackles in the secondary. A smart player who almost never gets beat in coverage and can tackle, Weddle solves lots of issues for Baltimore.
Wide receiver Brandon LaFell to Bengals- This may be the sneakiest good off-season move in the entire league. After an underwhelming start to his career in Carolina, LaFell spent the last couple years as Tom Brady’s favorite target not named Gronkowski in New England. Brady seemed to really trust him. He had 74 catches during New England’s Super Bowl winning season in 2014. If the best quarterback on the planet trusts him, then so should everyone else. He was let go by the Pats after the 2015 season as a salary cap move. He caught 37 balls in an injury plagued season, but is now healthy. With the inconsistent and often injured Marvin Jones off to Detroit, LaFell will be Cincinnati’s number two receiver opposite A.J. Green. He should draw enough coverage to free up Green just a little bit. Throw in tight end Tyler Eifert and the Bengals have the makings for one heck of a passing offense in 2016.
Wide receiver Mike Wallace to Ravens- The Ravens may have had the best off-season in all of football. Weddle will immediately shore up the defense and Mike Wallace is their new big-play threat on offense. However, the word new implies that they had big-play threat last year, that was not the case. Future Hall of Famer Steve Smith was injured, but isn’t winning any foot races even when healthy. Wallace is among the NFL’s all-time leaders in yards per catch. His lowest yards per catch in his seven-year career is a shade over 12. That is still a first down and then some. Hampered by below average quarterbacks in Miami and Minnesota since leaving the Steelers, I say the 29-year-old still has plenty in the tank. Joe Flacco’s flawless deep ball will be just the thing to revive him.
Linebacker Danny Trevathan to Bears- Von Miller got all the publicity on last year’s Broncos championship defense, but the guy who was next to him for most of it can flat out play. He is always around the ball. He had eight tackles and two key fumble recoveries in the Super Bowl. As a Denver fan, this is the one guy we lost, that I am bummed we could not find a way to keep. I encourage you to find any highlight video of the Broncos defense from last year and watch how many times number 59 is doing something positive, big or small. Former Broncos coach John Fox is no dummy and knows that this is the kind of player his rebuilding Bears defense needs. He is smart, tackles well, rarely is out of position, and covers the pass better than most linebackers.
Tight End Martellus Bennett to Patriots for a fourth round draft pick- When will the rest of the league learn to stop giving Bill Belichick really good players for next to nothing? Bennett is coming off three straight 50+ catch seasons for the Bears, including last year, when he missed five games. When he was healthy, he was among the top options for Jay Cutler. After contract issues, he was shipped to the Pats for mid-round draft picks in March. Belichick used similar trades to acquire Randy Moss and Wes Welker a few years back. Those deals resulted in arguably the best offense ever and a near perfect season. While the Bennett deal does not rise to that level, they have looked for a second tight end to pair with Rob Gronkowski ever since the Arron Hernandez debacle. Bennett is an incredible fit to fill that role.
There you have it. My five favorite under the radar off-season moves. I chose not to include contract details because I feel all of these players will end up looking like bargains for their new teams.