No NFL team will look in 2017 exactly like it did in 2016. Every team makes at least a few changes every offseason. These teams, however, have undergone seismic personnel or cultural shifts. With one notable exception, these moves have been made with drastic improvement in mind.
The Eagles had to do something after finishing last in the NFC East with a 7-9 record.
It turns out they did a lot of things. Their latest move came Wednesday when they signed former Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount. That’s going to change the look of their backfield, which in 2017 was staffed by often-injured Ryan Mathews and hybrid Darren Sproles. Blount gives the Eagles offense a grind-it-out element.
When he’s not handing the ball off to Blount, Carson Wentz could have at least two new targets in 2017. The Eagles signed free agents Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. Wentz now has a big target in Jeffrey and a deep threat in Smith to go with possession receiver Jordan Matthews.
On the defensive line, Timmy Jernigan and Chris Long will complement Fletcher Cox. The Eagles acquired Jernigan in a trade with the Ravens and picked up Long after he revived a sagging career and earned a Super Bowl ring in New England. Rookie defensive end Derek Barnett, the 14th overall draft pick, also might have something to say about the snap distribution.
Cornerback Nolan Carroll is now a Cowboy, but there are new bodies in the defensive backfield. Patrick Robinson was signed after being released by the Colts, and the Eagles dedicated Day 2 of the draft to cornerbacks. They drafted Sidney Jones in the second round and Rasul Douglas in the third round. Jones tore his Achilles in March and he’s no sure bet to get on the field in 2017, but the Eagles are likely hoping that Douglas (eight interceptions at West Virginia last season) can take over for a retread like Robinson sooner rather than later.
The Eagles had to shuffle their roster to compete in the formidable NFC East. They had the best record of any last-place team in 2016.
The Patriots might have lost LeGarrette Blount, but don’t expect the defending champs to miss a beat.
They’ve re-tooled their backfield committee, adding free agents Rex Burkhead from the Bengals and Mike Gillislee from the Bills. James White and Dion Lewis are still around, but Burkhead and Gillislee should have their moments in the spotlight. With Blount gone, the Patriots could go back to rotating featured backs from week to week.
The Patriots’ biggest offseason splash came when they traded their first-round draft pick to the Saints for Brandin Cooks, who caught 78 passes f0r 1,173 yards last season and averaged 15 yards per reception. The Patriots haven’t had a wide receiver catch 40 passes and average 15 yards a catch since Randy Moss in 2009. Tom Brady will feel like he’s 32 again when he sees an open Cooks.
New England’s headline move on defense this offseason was the signing of cornerback Stephon Gilmore from the Bills. He’ll replace Logan Ryan and start opposite Malcolm Butler playing in a contract year. That won’t be fun for opposing receivers or quarterbacks. The addition of Kony Ealy in a trade with the Panthers has flown under the radar with all those high-profile moves, but Ealy is an intriguing defensive piece. He turned heads with three sacks and an interception in a losing effort in Super Bowl 50, but followed that up with a modest five sacks last season.
The Patriots need to rediscover the Super Bowl version of Ealy, or just wait until the Super Bowl that they’re favored to reach again next year.
The Jets’ center-quarterback exchange will have a different look in 2017.
Gone is Nick Mangold, who started all but four games at center between 2006 and 2015. He missed half the season last year with an ankle injury. Wesley Johnson started the other eight games and is in line to start permanently. Who he snaps the ball to is anyone’s guess. Whether it’s Josh McCown, Bryce Petty or Christian Hackenberg, he won’t be working with a quarterback who started more than four games last season. McCown wasn’t even on the team and the sight of Hackenberg wearing anything other than a ballcap would be a new visual for the Jets.
When the Jets quarterback looks out at his receivers, he won’t find Brandon Marshall. He’s now a Giant after two seasons with the Jets. However, Eric Decker is expected back after missing 13 games last season.
The secondary will be full of new faces. Opposing quarterbacks won’t have Darrelle Revis to pick on anymore. Morris Claiborne could be an upgrade if he can stay healthy. The Jets’ top two draft picks, Jamal Adams sixth overall and Marcus Maye in the second round, both are safeties. Those two rookies have a shot to man the middle of the field in 2017. Who knows how it will turn out, but they’ll at least provide some new blood.
The Jaguars’ new look in 2017 will start at the top.
Tom Coughlin, who coached the Jaguars in their first eight years of existence from 1995-2002, has returned as the team’s vice president of football operations.
Coughlin can flash his two Super Bowl rings and change the culture of the organization.
The Jaguars’ defense could feature three new starters. Jacksonville signed Calais Campbell and his 56.5 career sacks. The Jags raided the division-rival Texans by signing A.J. Bouye and his 16 pass breakups. Joining him in the secondary will be former Cowboys safety Barry Church.
With this mix of free-agent signings and second-year players like Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack, the Jaguars could pick up where they left off defensively last season. They allowed 400 points, but were sixth in the league with 321.7 yards allowed per game. They also were tied for sixth with 3.8 rushing yards allowed per game.
On offense, the trio of Blake Bortles and wide receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns hasn’t quite fulfilled its promise. Perhaps Leonard Fournette can help with that.
The No. 4 overall pick in the draft, the 6’0″, 240-pound Fournette can give the Jaguars offense a smashmouth element that it hasn’t had since Maurice Jones-Drew ran for 1,606 yards in 2011.
At left tackle, instead of Kelvin Beachum battling it out with draft bust Luke Joeckel, two-time Pro Bowler Branden Albert will try to hold off rookie second-round pick Cam Robinson.
Fans might have a hard time recognizing the Jaguars in 2017. After a 3-13 season, that’s the point.
Three straight 11-5 seasons have been followed by two straight 8-8 season without a playoff berth for the Colts.
Part of the reason the Colts have become a .500 ballclub is their defense. They ranked 25th in points allowed and 26th in yards allowed in 2015 and 22nd in points and 30th in yards last season.
New general manager Chris Ballard has overhauled the defense, bringing in seven free agents and taking three defensive players in the first three rounds of the draft.
Jabaal Sheard comes from New England after getting five sacks and batting down four passes in 2016. The 28-year-old has been fairly consistent throughout his career. The Colts plucked outside linebacker John Simon from the Texans. Simon couldn’t become a regular starter on the league’s top-ranked defense, but he’s had 10 sacks over the last three seasons and according to Pro Football Focus had 26 quarterback pressures last season.
Then there are the disappointments the Colts are trying to salvage. Margus Hunt, a 6’8″ defensive end who was drafted in the second round in 2013, had just 1.5 sacks in Cincinnati. Linebacker Barkevious Mingo was the sixth overall pick in that draft. He has just seven career sacks and they all came in his first two seasons. The Colts will be his third team.
Johnathan Hankins will be asked to beef up the defensive line after playing the first four years of his career with the Giants. He started 16 games and had three sacks last season.
Sean Spence and Al Woods, both from Tennessee, also could fill key roles.
Ballard did a good job adding talent to the front seven, then in the draft the Colts took advantage of Malik Hooker’s unexpected slide to No. 15. The Ohio State safety was tied for third in the nation with seven interceptions last season, one less pick than the Colts had as a team. The Colts chose Florida cornerback Quincy Wilson in the second round and Ohio defensive end Tarell Basham in the third round.
None of these 10 defensive additions can help keep Andrew Luck healthy, but Ballard hopes at least some of them can help keep him off the sideline.
The Browns have no choice but to look completely different after going 1-15 last season.
They chose five players within the first 65 picks of the draft and maneuvered their way into three first-round picks. They took defensive end Myles Garrett first overall, safety Jabrill Peppers 25th and tight end David Njoku 29th.
Being the top pick, Garrett will need to make an immediate impact or he’ll start hearing “bust” whispers. Peppers, primarily a safety, will attract a lot of attention because the Browns could use him on offense and defense.
Garrett and Peppers as well as former Titans cornerback Jason McCourty are nice housewarming gifts for new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who replaces Ray Horton. Five position coaches also were replaced on Hue Jackson’s staff.
With the Njoku pick, the Browns have moved on from Gary Barnidge and are trying to get more dynamic at tight end.
Njoku and Kenny Britt will be new targets for whoever ends up as the Browns quarterback. It’s Cody Kessler’s job right now, but he’s going to have to fight to keep it. The Browns drafted DeShone Kizer in the second round and the sight of Brock Osweiler standing on the sidelines in a Browns uniform, if he even makes the team, will be rather comical.
Free from the yoke of the Colin Kaepernick controversy, the 49ers have undergone a corporate restructuring with changes in the organization’s three highest-profile positions.
John Lynch is the new general manager. Kyle Shanahan is the new head coach. Brian Hoyer is the new quarterback, for now.
One of these things is not like the others. Lynch is a nine-time Pro Bowler and Shanahan was the offensive coordinator of the NFC champions. Those moves are a lot bolder than signing a journeyman like Hoyer, but the 49ers might have addressed their quarterback situation in an under-the-radar way by drafting C.J. Beathard from Iowa in the third round. He comes from a pro-style offense and could be the quarterback sleeper of this draft.
Somehow Torrey Smith was the 49ers’ most recognizable wide receiver last season even though he was seventh on the team with 20 receptions. He’s an Eagle now and Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin are 49ers.
The 49ers had the worst defense in the NFL last season in both points and yards allowed. They went to work on that by drafting defensive lineman Solomon Thomas and linebacker Reuben Foster in the first round.
It was fitting that Lynch, a Stanford guy, took Thomas with his first pick as a GM. A lot of eyes will be on the former Fox analyst in his new role, and if Shanahan can turn around a 2-14 team, that could be his Super Bowl redemption.
The Cardinals’ new look in 2017 might not be what they had in mind.
Free agency hit their defense hard. They lost Calais Campbell, Tony Jefferson, Kevin Minter, Alex Okafor, D.J. Swearinger and Marcus Cooper.
Safety Antoine Bethea, 32, and linebacker Karlos Dansby, 35, were signed. The Cardinals also used the draft to shore up those defensive losses with younger bodies. They took Temple linebacker Haason Reddick with the 13th pick. Reddick’s progress will draw a lot of interest because he’s a former walk-on and he put himself on the map at the scouting combine. The Cardinals took another popular draft prospect, Budda Baker from Washington, in the second round. Baker’s a safety in the Tyrann Mathieu mold.
The changes aren’t as dramatic on offense for the Cardinals. Jared Veldheer is being moved from left tackle to right tackle with 2015 first-round pick D.J. Humphries replacing him. Andre Ellington has been made unnecessary at running back with the emergence of David Johnson, so he’s moving to wide receiver.
The Cardinals’ defense ranked second in yards allowed last season, although they were a middling 14th in points allowed as they slumped from NFC finalist to 7-8-1. Whether or not last season was an outlier will depend on how all those defensive moves shake out.
No longer is Jay Cutler the sullen face of the Bears.
Not that Mike Glennon is a whole lot happier these days. He was signed to a three-year, $45 million contract to be the Bears’ starting quarterback, then said he felt “cheated on” when the Bears drafted Mitchell Trubisky.
Glennon will probably start until Trubisky is ready. The Bears traded from No. 3 to No. 2 to get Trubisky, so the less time he spends sitting around, the better. The Bears also signed Mark Sanchez, one of the most famous third-string quarterbacks in the history of the NFL.
The Bears’ top receiver last year is back, and it’s not Alshon Jeffery. Cameron Meredith led the team with 66 receptions in his second season. Jeffery went to Philadelphia after a 52-catch season. Kevin White, the No. 7 overall pick of the 2015 draft, will be asked to help fill the void. White missed his entire rookie season with an injury and played four games last year before injuring his leg and missing the rest of the season. If the Bears don’t get something out of White he’ll be a colossal bust.
Low-key free agents Markus Wheaton and Kendall Wright were added to the mix, and Prince Amukamara, Marcus Cooper and Quintin Demps were brought in to shore up a middle-of-the-road passing defense.
If these moves don’t help John Fox and the Bears make a significant leap from 3-13, the changes next season probably will come on the coaching staff.
The Saints will look a little different in 2017, and they have a new running back who will look a lot different.
For the first time in his 11-year career, Adrian Peterson won’t be wearing purple on a football field. It’s unclear how much he has left in the tank, but Peterson will be seen in a Saints uniform next season and that will be hard to believe.
Ted Ginn also is changing his colors. The Saints signed the former Panther and also took linebacker A.J. Klein from their division rivals. Klein is one of several pieces the Saints are adding to a defense that has ranked in the bottom six of the league in both yards and points allowed in each of the last three seasons.
The most recognizable of those newcomers is linebacker Manti Te’o, even if he’s still better known for being catfished than what he’s done on the field. Linebacker Alex Okafor comes from Arizona and the Saints made a significant draft investment in their secondary. They took Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore at No. 11. Many projected him to go in the top 10. In the second round, they took Utah safety Marcus Williams. Lattimore had four interceptions last season and Williams had five. That adds up to the same number of interceptions the Saints had as a team last season.