5 most improved NFL teams in free agency so far – theScore

The first week of NFL free agency featured several blockbuster trades and lucrative signings across the league.

Here are the five most improved teams thus far:

Arizona Cardinals

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Notable offseason moves: Traded for WR DeAndre Hopkins, transition tagged RB Kenyan Drake, signed DT Jordan Phillips, signed LB Devon Kennard, signed LB De’Vondre Campbell, re-signed OT D.J. Humphries

Fleecing the Houston Texans for Hopkins was Arizona’s top move and one that positively impacts its upcoming campaign the most. Kyler Murray showed his dynamic ability as a rookie, and now he could break out in a big way when paired with his new top target. Hopkins is arguably the NFL’s best receiver, and his presence makes Kliff Kingsbury’s offense even more dangerous.

General manager Steve Keim dealt David Johnson as part of the Hopkins trade, keeping his top option at running back in the process. Drake was slapped with the transition tag, and he should now remain in the desert this season. The Alabama product was the far superior runner and receiver in 2020 after being acquired from the Miami Dolphins, posting 814 yards from scrimmage over only eight games last season with the Cardinals.

Meanwhile, Johnson’s play has been sharply declining over the last two years. He’s averaged 3.7 yards per carry since 2018 while battling various injuries, and the 28-year-old doesn’t appear to possess the explosiveness that led to early-career success.

The Cardinals also addressed defensive needs with a few under-the-radar signings. Phillips is coming off a career-high 9.5 sacks, and he should provide enough pass-rushing prowess to upgrade a weak position. Kennard and Campbell are solid additions, too. The former notched seven sacks in each of the last two seasons and fits nicely opposite Chandler Jones, while the latter will likely slot in as a starter next to Jordan Hicks.

If their offseason moves to date are any indication, the Cardinals are gunning for the NFC West crown in 2020.

Buffalo Bills

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Notable offseason moves: Traded for WR Stefon Diggs, signed CB Josh Norman, re-signed G Quinton Spain, signed DE Mario Addison, signed DL Quinton Jefferson, signed LB A.J. Klein, signed DT Vernon Butler

The Bills see an opening atop the AFC East for the first time since 2008 following Tom Brady’s departure from the division, and they’re taking full advantage.

Adding Diggs makes an already fun offense even more electric. Though Buffalo parted with its 2020 first-round pick, it’s hard to envision a rookie receiver outplaying the former Minnesota Vikings star. Diggs rounds out an impressive wideout group for Josh Allen that can attack and dominate at every level of the field. With several high-quality options to work with, Allen could take a significant third-year leap as a passer.

Buffalo also brought in a few underrated defensive free agents. Norman never lived up to expectations with the Washington Redskins, but Sean McDermott’s wisdom could lead to a rebound season while the veteran covers the opponent’s No. 2 wideouts. Addison is a big-time addition too after notching nine-plus sacks in each of his last four campaigns.

The Bills are in win-now mode and should be applauded for quickly improving their roster while Allen remains on his rookie contract. The jury is still out on whether the young quarterback can lead Buffalo to its first Lombardi Trophy, but the supporting cast is assembled now to try.

Indianapolis Colts

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Notable offseason moves: Signed QB Philip Rivers, traded for DT DeForest Buckner, re-signed OT Anthony Castonzo

General manager Chris Ballard is taking a quality over quantity approach to free agency while making just three moves, but there’s little doubt his roster has improved drastically.

Indianapolis’ biggest boost comes at the most important position. After rumors tied Rivers to the Colts for weeks, the two sides agreed to a one-year pact. The 38-year-old certainly wasn’t at his best in 2019 while tossing 23 touchdowns to 20 interceptions, but he’s still an upgrade over Jacoby Brissett.

Brissett is a fine passer, but his conservative nature doesn’t mesh well with Frank Reich’s offense. Rivers is a much better fit because of his aggression and quick decision-making. The veteran will also benefit from a much better offensive line than any he played behind with the Chargers.

Though it’s fair to argue that giving up the 13th overall pick and signing Buckner to a megadeal is a heavy price, adding him will immediately result in headaches for opposing blockers. The 2016 first-round pick possesses the athleticism and burst Indianapolis covets in a three-technique interior pass-rusher. With 19.5 sacks and 26 tackles for a loss over his last two seasons, Buckner is the All-Pro talent who could push Reich’s squad to an AFC South title.

The rest of the division is currently in shambles, too, making it easier to like the Colts’ moves even more.

Las Vegas Raiders

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Notable offseason moves: Signed LB Cory Littleton, signed CB Eli Apple, signed QB Marcus Mariota, signed LB Nick Kwiatkoski, signed DE Carl Nassib, signed DT Maliek Collins, signed TE Jason Witten

Kudos to Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock. The duo targeted a select few positions so far this offseason and went right to work.

The Raiders were desperate to add two starting-caliber linebackers to their defense, and they signed a couple of top-tier free agents. Littleton thrives in space and can match up with many of the league’s top tight ends and running backs in coverage, while Kwiatkoski will become a much-needed talent at the MIKE spot with stout run-defense skills.

Vegas also added two rotational pieces along its defensive line in Nassib – who’s registered 12.5 sacks over the last two years – and Collins. Meanwhile, Apple will compete for a starting cornerback spot opposite sophomore Trayvon Mullen. The 2016 first-round pick improved in coverage after being traded to the New Orleans Saints, and he’s still just 24.

Finally, the Raiders opted to bring in competition for Derek Carr instead of targeting Tom Brady. The six-time Super Bowl champion appears to be declining, so letting Carr and Mariota battle it out may be the better move. Gruden remains confident in Carr’s ability to lead his offense, so hopefully the 28-year-old takes a step forward. If not, Mariota could become this year’s Ryan Tannehill.

New York Giants

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Notable offseason moves: Signed LB Blake Martinez, signed CB James Bradberry, franchise tagged DL Leonard Williams, re-signed LB David Mayo, signed OT Cameron Fleming, signed QB Colt McCoy

The Giants again resided near the NFL’s basement in 2019, finishing with a 4-12 record. Dave Gettleman brought in a new head coach in Joe Judge, and the general manager is doing his best to improve the team’s roster early in free agency.

New York features an ascending Daniel Jones at quarterback and a handful of weapons around him, so the team mostly prioritized upgrading defensively. The Giants ranked 28th in pass defense and 13th against the run last season. Gettleman addressed those issues with Bradberry and Martinez. The former will provide stable play opposite 2019 first-rounder Deandre Baker, while the latter ranked second league-wide with 155 tackles in 2019.

The G-Men were also able to retain Williams and Mayo, two defenders who upgraded the team’s defense after being inserted into the starting lineup. Fleming and McCoy, meanwhile, add depth at key offensive positions.

Contract values aside, New York has greatly improved its roster in free agency. If Jones makes a sophomore leap, the Giants could be a sneaky playoff contender in 2020.

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