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How Four Teams Helped Their Second-Year QBs This Offseason

The Jets, Bills, Ravens, and Browns all added talent around their passers this spring. What will that mean for the former first-round picks in 2019?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Amid all the chatter about the Jets’ recent front-office mishaps, one name didn’t come up nearly often enough: Sam Darnold. The only (somewhat) reasonable argument for the aggressiveness former general manager Mike Maccagnan showed this offseason is that the franchise needed to provide Darnold with some help. Even if the price was steep, there’s no denying that the Jets offense is better with Le’Veon Bell, Jamison Crowder, and Kelechi Osemele.

The quest to improve a second-year quarterback’s situation wasn’t unique to New York this spring, either. The Bills (Josh Allen), Ravens (Lamar Jackson), and Browns (Baker Mayfield) all made significant additions to their offensive personnel in attempts to accelerate the growth of their young franchise QBs. With most of this offseason’s moving parts now settled, this is a perfect time to step back and consider the scale and quality of the four franchises’ additions, and how they’ll help (or hurt) those signal-callers.

New York Jets

Key offseason additions: RB Le’Veon Bell, WR Jamison Crowder, G Kelechi Osemele, RB Ty Montgomery, TE Trevon Wesco, T Chuma Edoga, WR Josh Bellamy

The Jets gave Bell $27 million guaranteed presumably because they view him as the type of dual-threat back that can contribute as much to the passing game as he does to the running game. In the past three seasons in which Bell played at least 12 games, he never averaged fewer than 5.2 receptions and 43.7 receiving yards per game. Last year, no Jets back averaged more than 2.4 catches or 24.1 receiving yards per game. Bell can act both as a reliable checkdown option and the no. 1 option in certain pass concepts, and he gives Darnold the out-of-the-backfield pass-catching threat that he didn’t have as a rookie. Bell’s presence as a runner should also indirectly aid Darnold in the passing game, considering it would be almost impossible for the Jets to be as poor running the ball this season as they were in 2018, when they finished 30th in rushing DVOA. Elijah McGuire had the second worst individual DVOA in the league among backs with 20-99 rushes, and Bilal Powell also landed in the bottom 10.

Kelechi Osemele should also give the running game a boost. The former All Pro guard had a down year in an injury-shortened campaign for the Raiders in 2017, but when healthy, he can still be one of the best guards in the league. All it took to pry Osemele away from Oakland was a fifth-round pick swap, and even though he comes with the league’s eighth-largest 2019 cap hit among guards ($10.2 million), there’s no guaranteed money remaining on his current deal. It was a low-risk move that came with significant upside for the Jets, and it was probably the shrewdest deal Maccagnan made this offseason. The Jets still have a lot of question marks along the offensive line—especially at center and right tackle, though third-round pick Chuma Edoga may eventually win the starting RT job—but Osemele should provide the team with some stability up front.

Luckily, the receiving corps looks to be in solid shape. Bringing Crowder in from Washington on a three-year, $28.5 million deal gives Darnold another middle-of-the-field receiving option. Crowder’s skills in the slot could make him and Quincy Enunwa—who signed a four-year, $36 million extension in December—somewhat redundant, but after the dearth of reliable options Darnold had last season, a glut at that position is a nice problem to have. Fourth-round pick Trevon Wesco could be another intriguing part of that equation. Wesco was an excellent blocker at West Virginia with underrated pass-catching talents. By pairing him with promising second-year tight end Chris Herndon, the Jets will have the option to use some creative 12-personnel packages (one back, two tight ends, and two receivers).

Overall, the offense may still be incomplete, but the Jets’ (costly) moves make this group much better than it was a season ago.

Buffalo Bills

Key offseason additions: WR John Brown, WR Cole Beasley, C Mitch Morse, RB Frank Gore, RB Devin Singletary, T Ty Nsekhe, G Cody Ford, G Quinton Spain

The Bills managed to pull off a tricky feat in free agency: They were aggressive without being reckless. Josh Allen had his struggles as a rookie, but the Wyoming product was also playing with one of the worst supporting casts in the NFL. Buffalo desperately needed upgrades to both its receiving corps and offensive line, and it’s gotten both this offseason without committing much long-term guaranteed money in the process.

Among QBs who took at least 50 percent of their team’s snaps last season, only Deshaun Watson was pressured on a higher percentage of his dropbacks than Allen (43.4 percent, according to Pro Football Focus). Allen also completed a league-worst 28.3 percent of his passes while under pressure. This spring, the Bills took steps to rectify that by completely remaking their offensive line. Morse was their crown jewel: The former Chiefs center is now the highest-paid player at the position (four years, $44.5 million with $26.2 million guaranteed), and he brings much-needed stability to the interior of the line.

Other more modest moves along the line could pay huge dividends too. Nsehke played well last season after stepping into the Redskins’ starting lineup because of injuries, and the Bills managed to land him on a two-year, $10 million deal. Nsehke profiles as the team’s starting right tackle, and second-round pick Cody Ford should step in next to him at right guard. And Spain will probably win the battle over several other cheap free-agent additions on the left side, which means four of the Bills’ five starters will likely be players they acquired this offseason. Considering their struggles last season, that’s the right approach.

The overhaul wasn’t just limited to the big guys up front, though. Brown and Beasley should immediately step in as Allen’s top two receivers, and each provides the Bills offense with a new element. Brown’s vertical speed should pair well with Allen, who threw deep (20 air yards or more) on 19.7 percent of his throws last season, the highest mark in the league among passers with at least 100 attempts. And Beasley will give Allen an option in the slot, which the Bills sorely lacked in 2018. Allen will need to significantly improve his intermediate accuracy to make Beasley an efficient part of the offense, but he and Brown will still give Allen two complementary and talented pieces that he lacked a season ago.

Rounding out the backfield, the Bills brought in a slew of secondary running backs to play behind LeSean McCoy. Veteran Frank Gore headlines that group, but third-round pick Devin Singletary and free-agent acquisition T.J. Yeldon also present new options. There are still plenty of question marks about Allen’s own ability as a passer as he heads into Year 2, but the Bills did a ton of quality work to upgrade the pieces around him this spring.

Baltimore Ravens

Key offseason additions: RB Mark Ingram, WR Marquise Brown, WR Miles Boykin, RB Justice Hill

In 2018, the Ravens surrounded Lamar Jackson with a collection of tight ends and seemed content to attack the middle of the field with their play-action-heavy passing game. Rookie Mark Andrews emerged as the team’s best pass-catching option, and first-round pick Hayden Hurst also played into the equation after returning from injury four games into the season.

This offseason, though, the Ravens have shown that they’re interested in finding potential stars on the outside as well. Baltimore took Oklahoma receiver Marquise Brown in the first round before adding Notre Dame product Miles Boykin in the third. The unifying trait among those picks is pure speed. The 220-pound Boykin ran a 4.42 in the 40 at the combine, and even though Brown missed the combine with a foot injury, he was considered the fastest player in the entire draft. Players like Boykin and Brown would be vertical threats in most offenses, but for the Ravens, they should also get to show off their burners on screens and other short passes.

The same should go for rookie running back Justice Hill, who blazed a 4.4 40 time at the combine. To go along with all that speed, the Ravens also signed Mark Ingram to a three-year, $15 million deal. Ingram will occupy the role Gus Edwards did in last year’s Baltimore offense—the downhill battering ram that can take advantage of the space Jackson’s running ability provides. Baltimore’s system is unlike any other in the league, and with Brown, Boykin, and Hill now in the fold, the athleticism of this team makes this approach as scary as it is novel.

Cleveland Browns

Key offseason acquisitions: WR Odell Beckham Jr., RB Kareem Hunt

The Browns may have made the fewest moves of these four teams, but their sole offseason splash has a chance to be truly transformative. In the eight games that Baker Mayfield played with Freddie Kitchens as his offensive coordinator last season, he averaged 8.57 yards per attempt and threw 19 touchdown passes. Cleveland’s offense was already trending up, and that was before the Browns added arguably the most dynamic pass-catching talent in the entire league. Beckham has averaged 92.8 yards per game over his first five seasons. Since the merger in 1970, that number trails only Julio Jones (96.7). And Beckham has done all of that with an aging, ineffective Eli Manning as his quarterback. Mayfield is a better player right now than Manning was at any point during Beckham’s career, and that duo has a chance to light the league on fire in their first season together.

Hunt’s addition also gives Cleveland a secondary backfield option behind the ultratalented Nick Chubb. Hunt’s abilities as both a receiver and a runner were apparent in Kansas City, but he’ll start the season serving an eight-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. Even when he returns, Chubb should still be the no. 1 option at running back.

Cleveland’s only real remaining question mark on offense is the line. After trading guard Kevin Zeitler to the Giants for Olivier Vernon, the Browns will be relying on second-year guard Austin Corbett to start at right guard. At this point, though, we’re just nitpicking. The Browns have a ton of talent, and that starts with Beckham.