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The Best Player-Team Fits of Early 2020 NFL Free-Agent Action

Marcus Mosher

The 2020 legal tampering period is underway, and a flurry of moves happened over the last 24 hours. We saw a number of big-name players change teams via free agency or trades who could shift the NFL's balance of power. 

Some of those puzzle pieces fit more snugly than others, though.

What makes someone a good fit for a specific team? Sometimes, a player fills a roster hole or the team looks like it can maximize its new player's skill set.

Let's take a look at some of the best fits of the tampering period before free-agency officially opens Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET.


DL Calais Campbell to Ravens

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Given that the Jacksonville Jaguars aren't planning to compete in the AFC anytime soon, they agreed to trade Calais Campbell to the Baltimore Ravens ahead of the final year of his contract, moving his $15 million salary for just a fifth-round pick in 2020, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero.

The Ravens are the beneficiaries of this cap-saving move, as they acquired a defensive lineman who has made three straight Pro Bowls. Baltimore is also reportedly working on a two-year, $27 million extension for him that includes $20 million guaranteed.

Campbell is a perfect fit in the Ravens defense, as he can play up and down the line and in both 3-4 and 4-3 fronts. Since Baltimore has one of the NFL's most aggressive, talented secondaries, Campbell, along with fellow Pro Bowler Brandon Williams, should dominate interior offensive lines. 

The new Raven will turn 34 before the start of the season, but he is still one of the best D-linemen in the league, especially against the run. Considering Baltimore only had to give up a fifth-round pick for him, this is a massive win for both the team and Campbell.

Look for him to help stabilize a line that finished in the bottom five in run defense last season.

TE Austin Hooper to Browns

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One of the best tight ends available, Austin Hooper agreed to terms with the Cleveland Browns just after the opening bell of the legal tampering period on a four-year, $42 million deal ($23 million guaranteed), per NFL Network's Rapoport, Pelissero and Michael Silver

Hooper had a career year in 2019, setting personal highs with 75 receptions, 787 yards and six touchdowns. But since the Atlanta Falcons needed to save cap space to fix their defense, they couldn't afford to retain Hooper.

Luckily for the Browns, the 25-year-old is the ideal fit in their offense, as he is one of the NFL's best receiving tight ends. While David Njoku has yet to pan out, Hooper can exploit single coverage in the middle of the field. He also gives Cleveland the flexibility to utilize two-tight end sets, which could help the running game. 

In addition, Hooper should take attention from Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, who are recovering from offseason core and hip surgeries, respectively. If nothing else, he gives Baker Mayfield another reliable target as those two star receivers look to get back into Pro Bowl form.

Look for Hooper to become a big part of the Browns' red-zone offense, which ranked 13th in the NFL in 2019, and for him to become a significant part of their passing attack in general.

QB Case Keenum to Browns

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One of the most underrated moves during the first day of the legal tampering period came when the Browns secured former Redskins backup quarterback Case Keenum. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Keenum agreed to a three-year, $18 million deal, with $10 million in guarantees. While it's not an absurd amount of money, Keenum became one of the NFL's higher-paid backup quarterbacks. 

He has started 38 games for three teams over the past three seasons and has been surprisingly competent. Since the start of 2017, the 32-year-old has an 89.4 passer rating and has averaged seven yards per attempt. 

The Browns didn't sign Keenum to push or replace Mayfield, but to help him improve as a passer. Keenum plays the position in a similar manner and should be an outstanding mentor. Each passer is on the smaller side, but win with accuracy and athleticism in and outside the pocket. If the Browns are ever forced to play Keenum, their offensive gameplan won't need to be adjusted at all. 

While this move won't send shock waves throughout the league, Keenum moved to a great backup situation and could be a more than an adequate spot starter.

At 32, expect him to finish his career as a member of the Browns. 

OT Jack Conklin to Browns

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The Browns landed 2016 All-Pro right tackle Jack Conklin, formerly of the Tennessee Titans, in another fantastic move Monday. According to Schefter, Conklin agreed to a three-year, $42 million deal ($30 million guaranteed). It's a shorter contract than many expected—and potentially a bit cheaper. 

It's no secret the Browns had massive offensive line problems, and signing a player such as Conklin could dramatically help things, at least on the right side. He's been one of the NFL's better right tackles since the Titans drafted him eighth overall in 2016, and he excels as a zone run-blocker. That, in itself, makes a lot of sense for the Browns, given that is the style of rushing attack new offensive line coach Bill Callahan uses. 

The Browns should still target a left tackle at pick No. 10, but grabbing Conklin at least fills one of their biggest O-line holes. Look for Callahan to get the most out of the 25-year-old and get him back to a near Pro Bowl level this season.

DT Javon Hargrave to Eagles

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The Philadelphia Eagles aren't afraid to be aggressive in free agency, especially when it comes to finding pass-rushers. This time, they stole an in-state nose tackle who is arguably one of the best at his position. According to Schefter, the Eagles agreed to a three-year, $39 million ($26 million guaranteed) deal with former Steelers defender Javon Hargrave. 

He has played 63 games for the Steelers over the past four seasons, totaling 14.5 sacks. While he isn't an elite pass-rusher, Hargrave can generate pressure from the nose tackle position and doesn't need to come off the field. The 27-year-old will play next to Fletcher Cox and will be tasked with occupying double-teams to free up the All-Pro interior rusher. 

In addition, look for Hargrave to get more pass-rushing opportunities with his move to a four-man defensive line. He might never be a double-digit sack producer, but Hargrave is a fantastic fit in an Eagles unit that was already loaded across the defensive line.

Don't be surprised if Hargrave's best football is ahead of him. 

DL Michael Brockers to Ravens

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After securing Campbell in a trade before the legal tampering period, the Ravens weren't done adding to their defensive line. According to Schefter, they agreed to terms with 2012 first-round pick Michael Brockers on a deal worth up to $30 million ($21 million guaranteed). 

While Brockers never made a Pro Bowl with the Rams and hasn't recorded more than 5.5 sacks in a season, he is widely regarded as one of the league's best run defenders. He also has incredible versatility, starting in both a 4-3 and a 3-4 defense in his career.

In Baltimore, the 29-year-old is expected to primarily play as a 5-technique, with Campbell lining up opposite him. However, look for Brockers to get some nose tackle snaps in certain packages. 

Baltimore had to upgrade its run defense after allowing 4.4 yards per carry in 2019. In their playoff loss to the Titans, the Ravens allowed Derrick Henry to run for 195 yards on 30 carries. But with Brockers and Campbell in the fold, expect the Ravens to have one of the league's better run defenses.

This couldn't be a more perfect fit.

CB Byron Jones to Miami Dolphins

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One of the biggest-ticket players scheduled to hit free agency was former Dallas Cowboys cornerback Byron Jones. The 2015 first-rounder played in 79 of a possible 80 games over five years, making starts at cornerback and safety. He made the full-time switch to corner in 2018 and became a Pro Bowler.  

On Monday, Jones agreed to a contract with the Miami Dolphins and will become the league's highest-paid cornerback, according to Rapoport. The deal will pay him $82.5 million over five years and includes $57 million in guarantees, according to Schefter

On the field, the move makes sense for both the player and team. Jones, 27, will be paired with Xavien Howard, a 26-year-old Pro Bowler. Both players have incredible athleticism, and size and length to spare. In head coach Brian Flores' defense, Jones (6'0", 205 lbs) and Howard (6'1", 198 lbs) can play on either side and will make up arguably the NFL's best cornerback duo. 

While the Dolphins need to continue to improve their pass rush and linebacking unit, signing a star such as Jones should cover up several holes in the secondary.

WR DeAndre Hopkins to Cardinals

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In one of the most surprising deals in recent memory, the Houston Texans traded All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals for the small price of a second-round pick and running back David Johnson, per Rapoport. The teams also swapped fourth-rounders. While the move makes no sense from the Texans' perspective, there are a whole lot of reasons to be excited about Hopkins' fit with the Cardinals. 

The move to grab arguably the best receiver in football to support second-year quarterback Kyler Murray is one of the best transactions the Cardinals could've made. While Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk are solid receivers, neither is a No. 1 option. Hopkins, 27, allows each player to slide into his best role, which should help dramatically improve the wide receiver corps. 

As for Hopkins, he is joining a team that should be in the top 10 for passing attempts next season. While the quality of targets might not quite be the same—he's going from Deshaun Watson to Murray—the number of attempts could skyrocket. It's also an ascending offense that could be dramatically better in 2020. 

Hopkins was exactly what the Cardinals needed. With him and Fitzgerald on the roster, Murray has two of the league's most reliable receivers to help him develop. This team could take a massive step forward in 2020 with the help of its new star receiver. 

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