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Not every NFL offseason move is a splash. Most only cause a few ripples; some are like Olympic-style dives.
And some moves that are originally perceived as unsplashy wind up creating tidal waves.
Every year, there are high-quality offseason acquisitions who were somewhat or entirely overlooked—some because of other moves within the organization, others because of further moves at their positions and some because they weren’t highly touted draft picks.
Here are 10 such additions who might be difference-makers this fall and winter.
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Because Chicago Bears running back Tarik Cohen is coming off a Pro Bowl season in which he accumulated close to 1,200 scrimmage yards and because the Bears brought in veteran back Mike Davis in free agency, rookie third-round pick David Montgomery isn’t stealing too many headlines nationally.
But Jordan Howard is gone after being traded to the Philadelphia Eagles, and Cohen has just four games with 10-plus carries in two NFL seasons. A lot will likely fall on Montgomery’s shoulders, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the Iowa State product were to become the next great rookie back from Day 2 of the draft.
Montgomery amassed over 2,800 scrimmage yards while scoring 24 touchdowns in his last two college seasons, and he has all the tools required to become a special running back.
“He’s the whole package,” Bears head coach Matt Nagy said of Montgomery following the draft, per Alyssa Barbieri of Bears Wire. “He has the hands. He’s a three-down back. He’s everything we were looking for.”
Montgomery’s hype train is gaining steam, but a third-round pick has still inevitably been overlooked. And a lot of teams might soon regret passing on the 5’10”, 222-pounder in April. After all, Nagy has already compared his new back to 2017 rookie rushing king Kareem Hunt, and Bleacher Report draft guru Matt Miller sees him as “an immediate NFL starter.”
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NELL REDMOND/Associated Press
Somehow, 25 wide receivers signed free-agent contracts this offseason that were more lucrative than the measly one-year, $1.45 million deal veteran Chris Hogan got with the Carolina Panthers.
That’s odd. While Hogan was never a star in New England, the 30-year-old was steady while working with Tom Brady and Co. He’s recorded over 400 yards in five consecutive seasons dating back to his time with the Buffalo Bills, and during his three campaigns with the Pats, he was one of just three qualified receivers in the league to average more than 15 yards per reception and nab more than 62 percent of his targets.
We might view Hogan differently had his promising 2017 season not been derailed by injury. He was tied for the team lead with five touchdown grabs before hurting his shoulder midway through that campaign. And while he wasn’t as large of a factor when he returned to health last year, his rate-based numbers (15.2 yards per reception and a catch percentage of 63.6) were again impressive.
Hogan has Super Bowl-drenched roots, and it wasn’t long ago he led the NFL with 17.9 yards per catch on a championship team. Now he joins a wide-open Panthers receiving corps, and if quarterback Cam Newton‘s shoulder is indeed fixed, Hogan could outperform his contract in comical fashion.
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The focus of the San Francisco 49ers’ draft was of course No. 2 overall pick Nick Bosa. And with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo returning from injury to a team that suddenly has Bosa, Dee Ford, Kwon Alexander and Tevin Coleman, you couldn’t be faulted for overlooking the presence of No. 36 overall pick Deebo Samuel.
When one thinks of the 49ers pass-catchers, they are probably more likely to call to mind record-breaking tight end George Kittle, veteran speedster Marquise Goodwin or 2018 breakout rookie Dante Pettis before remembering that Samuel was the third receiver drafted in April.
The polished South Carolina product improved steadily during his four years in the SEC, and it appears as though he’s already made a strong impression in San Francisco. The Athletic’s Matt Barrows predicted that he’ll start as a Z receiver immediately.
The 23-year-old should also pose a constant threat as a kick returner after seeing time in that role with the Gamecocks.
Few are watching Samuel like the other newcomers in San Francisco or even other highly drafted rookie receivers such as Marquise Brown (25th overall), N’Keal Harry (32nd) or DK Metcalf (64th), but Samuel could do plenty of damage this fall.
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Gerald Herbert/Associated Press
For whatever reason (presumably his age), veteran tight end Jared Cook lingered into the second wave of free agency. And when he finally did sign with the New Orleans Saints, the 32-year-old inked a two-year, $15 million deal with less guaranteed money ($8 million) than Jesse James, 25, got from the Detroit Lions.
James has never had a 500-yard season. Cook is coming off an 896-yard campaign in which he was one of just three players at his position to average more than 13 yards per reception and catch more than 67 percent of his targets (on more than 30 receptions).
That earned Cook his first career Pro Bowl nod, but he has four other 600-plus-yard seasons under his belt and doesn’t look as though he’s lost a step.
He’ll likely represent a huge upgrade over the departed Ben Watson (who scored just two touchdowns last year in his age-38 campaign) and backup Josh Hill (who has failed to hit the 200-yard mark since coming into the league in 2013).
“I’d read a lot of good things about him before he got here,” quarterback Drew Brees said during OTAs, per Nathan Brown of the New Orleans Advocate, “but he’s certainly impressed us. … He’s got a great feel for the game, and I think he’s going to fit very well in our offense.”
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A big reason why rookie quarterback Josh Rosen failed to deliver in his sole season with the Arizona Cardinals? The offensive line ranked last in pass-blocking efficiency in 2018, according to Pro Football Focus.
But before free agency even started, the Cards bolstered that unit by quietly trading for longtime Pittsburgh Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert, who started 87 games at right tackle over the last eight years in Pennsylvania.
Injuries and a suspension caused Gilbert to miss all but 12 games the last two seasons, but he’s still just 31 years old. He’s owed only $4.9 million this season, and he should be able to bring some much-needed stability to an offensive line that lacked it with a revolving door at right tackle in 2018.
Considering that new rookie quarterback Kyler Murray started just one season for the Oklahoma Sooners, he could benefit immediately from Gilbert’s experience and steadiness in the locker room and on the field.
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Charles Krupa/Associated Press
How will the New England Patriots replace departed versatile edge defender Trey Flowers? Most eyes are on incoming star Michael Bennett, especially since he was the only big-name March addition and the team used its first-round draft pick on the other side of the ball by selecting wide receiver N’Keal Harry.
But one night after adding Harry, the Pats drafted a third-round pass-rusher who could immediately become a significant cog as part of head coach Bill Belichick‘s defensive rotation. Chase Winovich (No. 77 overall) is both mature and polished coming out of Michigan (28 starts across his final three years), and it’s easy to envision him becoming New England’s No. 2 edge-rusher in 2019.
Bleacher Report draft guru Matt Miller calls the two-time first-team All-Big 10 defensive end an “athletic, productive senior player who overshadowed Devin Bush and Rashan Gary on a stacked defense.” He noted that he “has the look of an early contributor and longtime starter.” And Michael Renner of Pro Football Focus named the 24-year-old one of the steals of the draft.
Watch for Winovich to join Rob Gronkowski, Jamie Collins and Joe Thuney as the latest Patriots Day 2 pick to become a success.
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Nick Wass/Associated Press
Regardless of what happens with quarterback Dwayne Haskins, rookie pass-rusher Montez Sweat is likely to be viewed as “the other guy the Washington Redskins selected in the first round of the 2019 draft.”
But Sweat is a 6’6″, 260-pound physical marvel who crushed both the Senior Bowl and the NFL Scouting Combine, and he is fresh off back-to-back double-digit-sack seasons with Mississippi State in the SEC. His stock likely only dropped him to No. 26 at the bottom of Round 1 because of a heart condition that might have been a misdiagnosis.
And he’s made a strong first impression.
“He’s been an impressive young man,” defensive line coach Jim Tomsula said in June, per Les Carpenter of the Washington Post. “Very impressive.”
But the Redskins drafted Haskins 11 spots earlier, and Sweat was just the ninth defensive lineman selected. That means it could take some time for the hype to catch up.
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While most of us were still hooting and hollering over the New York Giants’ decision to trade superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., the Giants did at least sign a pair of Golden players. The first—Golden Tate—generated plenty of headlines because he’ll be attempting to help fill Beckham’s shoes. The second—Markus Golden—flew under the radar with a simple one-year, $3.75 million deal.
But the latter is also tasked with helping fill the big shoes left by high-priced pass-rusher Olivier Vernon, who’s now in Cleveland, and it’s possible he’ll surprise folks with a bounce-back 2018 campaign.
That’s right, bounce back. You might recall that the 2015 second-round pick posted 12.5 sacks and forced four fumbles in what probably should have been a Pro Bowl sophomore campaign. Giants defensive coordinator James Bettcher was in charge of the Arizona D then, and earlier this offseason, he remembered 2016 Golden as “one of the best pass-rushers in this league.”
The Missouri product tore his ACL in 2017 and wasn’t himself coming off said injury in 2018, but he says he’s fully healthy now, and a fresh environment should help.
“I’m hunting,” the 28-year-old said in May, per Pat Leonard of the Daily News. “I feel good. I feel like myself again.”
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Frank Franklin II/Associated Press
Yeah, every non-Beckham-related move the Giants made this offseason was overlooked, and even the key player the team got back from the Browns has been discounted.
But don’t look past Jabrill Peppers, who might actually have a high enough ceiling to avoid spending the rest of his career known only as “the guy for whom the Giants traded Odell Beckham Jr.”
It appeared to be a deal-breaker for general manager Dave Gettleman if the 2017 first-round pick out of Michigan wasn’t included in that deal for Beckham, and that makes sense considering the loss of star safety Landon Collins on the free-agent market.
Peppers has yet to live up to his sky-high predraft potential as a two-time first-team All-Big Ten safety, but he improved immensely in a sophomore season that included an interception, a sack, 79 tackles, three fumble recoveries and the 23rd-best PFF grade among 104 qualified players at his position.
The 23-year-old could explode in his third season, which might eventually help Giants fans get over the Beckham deal.
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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
Six cornerbacks signed contracts this offseason with higher average annual values than the one Bryce Callahan inked with the Denver Broncos ($7 million per year), including another Denver acquisition, Kareem Jackson.
Jackson is a well-established outside presence, Denver also spent big bucks on Ja’Wuan James ($12.8 million over four years), and Callahan entered the offseason recovering from a broken foot, all of which explains why his signing has seemingly flown under the radar.
But Callahan was back on the field at organized team activities, and he could be in for another big season covering the slot for Vic Fangio, who took over as Broncos head coach after spending the past four years as Chicago’s defensive coordinator.
The 27-year-old Callahan didn’t receive a single penalty while ranking 11th in coverage among 131 qualified corners at PFF in 2018, making him one of the most valuable members of a Bears defense that surrendered a league-low 17.7 points per game.
And that was his second consecutive strong season, so there’s little reason to believe he won’t make a similar impression in Denver.