The launch of NFL training camps continues as multiple well-known free agents agreed to deals with teams within the last 24 hours.
These type of moves will become crucial to the tapestry of the 2020 campaign as some players opt out because of concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bolstering a roster with competent veterans instead of relying on unproven options is likely the best path toward success this fall.
As Houston Texans head coach/general manager Bill O'Brien told reporters in April: "... I think that this year with the unique position that we're in, I truly believe that this is a veteran type of year. I think it's going to be really difficult for rookies without offseason practicing on the field and being able to do all the things that you do during that five-week stretch after the draft and then training camp."
O'Brien may have made some questionable moves this offseason, but he's not necessarily wrong. It is clear there are squads looking at alternatives to make up for what they've lost elsewhere.
The Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers—the NFC South arms race is heating up again—have been busy with both rookies and veterans already reporting for camp and practices expected to start next week.
LeSean McCoy Joins Tom Brady in Tampa Bay Buccaneers Backfield
The rich keep getting richer.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers already experienced the offseason of a lifetime with the additions of quarterback Tom Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski and an outstanding draft class.
The organization signed LeSean McCoy to a one-year deal Thursday, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.
"He's very excited to play with established vets like Brady and Gronk in trying to win another championship," agent Drew Rosenhaus told Schefter.
The 32-year-old McCoy isn't a lead back at this stage of his career, but he provides valuable experience as an insurance policy behind the disappointing Ronald Jones II and third-round rookie Ke'Shawn Vaughn.
Last season, the six-time Pro Bowler carried the ball 101 times and averaged 4.6 yards per carry as part of the Super Bowl-winning Kansas City Chiefs backfield. If Jones doesn't develop as expected and/or Vaughn isn't ready in his first season, McCoy provides a steady presence alongside Brady.
The 11-year veteran could also be a valuable piece on passing downs as a receiving threat or pass protector.
Free-Agent CB Darqueze Dennard Agrees to Join Atlanta Falcons
Cornerback Darqueze Dennard found a new home...again.
Earlier this offseason, the 28-year-old defensive back agreed to sign a three-year, $13.5 million deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars, only to see it fall apart after the two sides couldn't agree on the final terms, per the Florida Times-Union's John Reid.
On Thursday, Dennard agreed to play for the Atlanta Falcons, according to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero.
The six-year veteran should provide a significant boost to the Falcons secondary after excelling in the slot for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Now, Atlanta will have some maneuverability within the unit, with Dennard and Kendall Sheffield able to flex in and out to complement Isaiah Oliver and this year's first-round pick, A.J. Terrell. Dennard enters this group as a veteran voice to help with the others' maturation and development.
Veteran LB Nigel Bradham Chooses to Play for New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints acquired the best available off-ball linebacker when they agreed to terms with Nigel Bradham on Thursday, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.
The 30-year-old second-line defender is a true three-down linebacker who is capable of playing all three spots ("Sam," "Mike" and "Will"). This versatility allowed Bradham to start 58 games during four seasons with the Eagles before Philly released him earlier this offseason.
Injuries derailed him in 2019, though, and almost certainly led to his remaining unsigned until late July. The eight-year linebacker revealed he played through a torn shoulder labrum and damaged ankle ligaments last season, per the Philadelphia Inquirer's Marcus Hayes.
The Saints, meanwhile, won't rely on Bradham the same way the Eagles did since he'll add to an already talented group of linebackers, though uncertainty exists within the group.
Demario Davis is a defensive leader, and he's coming off a first-team All-Pro performance. Kiko Alonso and Alex Anzalone are more than capable, but both ended last season on injured reserve. The Saints also traded up in the third round to select Wisconsin's Zack Baun, but it remains to be seen how much the coaching staff wants to rely on the rookie.
Buffalo Bills Lose Starting Offensive Lineman Indefinitely After Surgery
Buffalo Bills starting right guard Jon Feliciano required surgery Friday to repair a torn pectoral muscle, per an official team release. He is out indefinitely.
Normally, the loss of a 16-game starter would be a significant blow. However, the Bills have one of the few rosters that feature plenty of offensive line depth.
Feliciano's loss can't be viewed as a positive, of course, but the team has capable replacement options.
Spencer Long and Darryl Williams are two veterans with experience at guard. The Bills could move Cody Ford from right tackle to inside, which may be his more natural position, with Ty Nsekhe taking over at tackle.
The organization is also high on former Philadelphia Eagles practice-squad player Ryan Bates, who went undrafted in 2019 and joined Buffalo via trade last summer, according to SiriusXM NFL Radio's Adam Caplan. Starting might be too much for the Penn State product to handle at this point in his career, though.
Ultimately, the Bills have options, and the team can enter camp knowing something it must do something about the position.
Joe Burrow Finally Signs Rookie Contract
It's official. This year's No. 1 overall draft pick, Joe Burrow, is a member of the Cincinnati Bengals.
The franchise announced Burrow's signing Friday.
"Feeling was just relief," the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback told reporters. "It's been a long time since I've been drafted. Stepping into the building was, it's about time."
The 23-year-old signal-caller will immediately take on the responsibility of leading the franchise, learning the offense and serving as the face of Bengals football.
"It's just football," he said. "Doing what I've always done. Working the way I've always worked. I can't get complacent; I haven't done anything yet."
Burrow put together the greatest single season in major college football when he completed 76.3 percent of his passes, threw for 5,671 yards and tossed 60 touchdowns during LSU's undefeated national championship-winning 2019 campaign.
He'll go from one of the most talented rosters in college football history to a team went 2-14 last year and is trying to put a competitive group on the field. It may be "just football," but a large task lies ahead for the talented quarterback.
Bengals' Depth Takes Hit Along Defensive, Offensive Lines
Joe Burrow may finally be signed, sealed and delivered, but the Cincinnati Bengals should look to bolster the roster elsewhere after two potential contributors opted out of the 2020 campaign.
Nose tackle Josh Tupou informed the team he won't play, according to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero. The organization also announced offensive lineman Isaiah Prince was placed on the reserve/opt-out list.
Of the two, Tupou's loss could hurt the most since he was a regular part of the rotation and started seven games last season.
The Bengals did sign D.J. Reader to a four-year, $53 million free-agent deal this offseason to serve as the anchor along the interior. But Tupou would have been a solid backup, so the franchise should look toward signing a veteran free agent to fill the role.
Domata Peko wants to play a 15th season. He previously spent 11 seasons with the organization before signing with the Denver Broncos prior to the 2017 campaign. Damon Harrison Sr., Tim Jernigan and Mike Daniels are other available options.
Prince started two games for the Miami Dolphins last year before he was waived and picked up by the Bengals. He would have competed for a roster spot.
RB Jeremy Hill Visits Las Vegas Raiders
Former NFL running back Jeremy Hill might return to the game. According to ESPN's Field Yates, the Las Vegas Raiders hosted Hill on a free-agent visit.
Hill is only 27 years old but didn't play last season. More importantly, he's nearly two years removed from a torn ACL he suffered in Week 1 of the 2018 campaign as a member of the New England Patriots.
As a rookie, Hill ran for 1,124 yards. Over his first three seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, the 2014 second-round pick accounted for 29 rushing touchdowns. However, Joe Mixon surpassed him on the depth chart before an ankle injury ended Hill's career in the Queen City.
Hill would be a low-risk flier as a talented back with a track record.
Josh Jacobs will be the featured back in the Raiders offense, but Hill's size (230 pounds) would provide a different dynamic, as he can be an explosive between-the-tackles runner.
NFL Suspends WR Antonio Brown 8 Games
On Friday, the NFL suspended wide receiver Antonio Brown without pay for the first eight regular-season games of the 2020 campaign.
The suspension will start Sept. 5 whether or not he has signed with a team, per ESPN's Dan Graziano. If he were to sign now, he would be eligible to practice with his teammates before the suspension begins.
Prior to the league's announcement, there was reportedly interest in the 32-year-old.
According to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, the Seattle Seahawks did "a deep dive" on the seven-time Pro Bowler.
"They feel they have a good grasp on who he is both as a player and as a person," Fowler said on SportsCenter.
Also, Baltimore Ravens quarterback and reigning league MVP Lamar Jackson has been vocal about his preference to play alongside Brown.
"It was nice throwing to Antonio Brown [this offseason]," Jackson said, per ESPN's Jamison Hensley. "I was hoping we would get him. I'm still hoping—a little bit."
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh didn't shoot down the idea.
Brown will be eligible to play in early November.
Detroit Lions S Jayron Kearse Receives 3-Game Suspension
The Detroit Lions signed safety Jayron Kearse to a one-year, $2 million free-agent deal this offseason knowing he could be suspended after being arrested and charged with driving while impaired and possession of a firearm without a permit in October, per Pro Football Talk's Josh Alper.
The NFL levied its punishment Friday by suspending Kearse for three games without pay, according to Tim Twentyman of the team's official site.
Without Kearse in the lineup, Detroit will lose some flexibility since the 26-year-old can line up in the box, deep or over the slot.
Once the regular season begins, the Lions will rely heavily on projected starters Duron Harmon and Tracy Walker. They can also lean on last year's third-round pick, Will Harris, to replace Kearse until his Oct. 4 return against the New Orleans Saints.