NFL stars who switched teams this offseason

Months before two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, one-time regular-season MVP Russell Westbrook, one-time league champion Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis and other recognizable basketball stars switched teams during the summer, the NFL presented fans with its own wild and unpredictable offseason, one that included multiple game-changers either choosing or being sent to new homes. How drastically has the balance of power shifted in the NFL since Super Bowl LIII? The Cleveland Browns, responsible for an 0-16 record in 2017, are now legitimate contenders to win the title next February, per Bovada and the FanDuel SportsBook. What a time to be alive.

While Cleveland bolstered its offense and defense following quarterback Baker Mayfield's breakout rookie campaign, the Pittsburgh Steelers are hoping the departures of a pair of stars will serve as instances of addition by subtraction. And household names have been trading places all around the league. Here are football players who switched things up this offseason.

Odell Beckham Jr.

Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was a polarizing figure throughout his five-season tenure with the Giants. Beckham broke records, entertained fans with flamboyant touchdown celebrations and repeatedly demonstrated he possessed an ability to take the ball to the house from just about anywhere on the field. He also missed 16 of 32 games because of injury from September 2017 through December 2018. He threw quarterback Eli Manning under the figurative bus during a controversial ESPN interview and, per SNY's Ralph Vacchiano, became a "pain in the a–" after he put pen to paper on a five-year contract that could be worth up to $90 million. In March 2019, Giants general manager Dave Gettleman traded Beckham to the Browns.

Beckham's on-the-field talent is undeniable and goes beyond that famous one-handed grab against the Dallas Cowboys. He now sits atop the depth chart at his position for an offense that features Mayfield, the 2018 Pro Football Writers of America Rookie of the Year, Jarvis Landry (OBJ's teammate at LSU), running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt (who will only be available for the second half of the season after serving a league suspension) and promising tight end David Njoku. It's a dream team unit bound to be popular in editions of Madden 20. Can it win in real life and guide the Browns to the playoffs for the first time since January 2003?

Golden Tate

While never as flashy a presence as Beckham, Golden Tate consistently caught no fewer than 90 passes each season from 2014 through 2017 as a member of the Detroit Lions. After losing four of their first seven contests in 2018, the Lions gave Tate an opportunity to chase a ring with the reigning champion the Philadelphia Eagles via a trade in late October. Things never really clicked between player and club, as Tate finished the regular season with 30 catches and a single touchdown reception in eight appearances with Philadelphia. After accumulating seven catches and a score in a pair of postseason contests, Tate signed with the Giants, in part to replace the traded OBJ.

Tate's stint in the Big Apple got off on the wrong foot before the team's first preseason snap, as the veteran took to Twitter on July 27 to announce he was facing a four-game suspension for violating the league's policy regarding the use of performance-enhancing drugs because of a prescription given to him by a fertility specialist. Regardless of the outcome of that situation, Tate will eventually take the field wearing a Big Blue jersey, but his ban is yet another black cloud hovering over a Giants organization seemingly incapable of getting more right than wrong with Gettleman running the franchise's personnel department.

Antonio Brown

When fully healthy and motivated, Antonio Brown is arguably the best deep-ball receiving threat in the league. He averaged a touchdown reception per game in 15 contests with the Pittsburgh Steelers last season, but his relationship with the franchise deteriorated beyond repair by New Year's Day. On December 31, CBS Sports reported Brown was involved in an "ugly" altercation with Ben Roethlisberger before Pittsburgh's Week 17 showdown with division rivals the Cincinnati Bengals, and that incident resulted in Brown's benching for that game. By the time Brown explained his side of the story, Pittsburgh clearly was ready to move on. Early into the start of the offseason, the Steelers shipped Brown to the Oakland Raiders.

What can Brown do for Oakland? He's unquestionably the best target Derek Carr has seen since the Raiders drafted the quarterback in 2014, and Carr needs to do everything possible to impress head coach Jon Gruden before the QB's contract makes it easy for the team to cut him without suffering any financial hardship. In July, CBS Sports listed the Raiders as a team "most likely to use a fairly early draft pick on a quarterback" in 2020.

Le'Veon Bell

Antonio Brown and running back Le'Veon Bell share several things in common. Both are among the top players at their positions. Both earned fortunes starting for the Steelers. Both finished their Pittsburgh careers as spectators. Unlike Brown, Bell didn't play a snap in 2018, as he refused to sign a franchise tender worth $14.5 million, according to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, and then failed to come to terms on a long-term contract with the organization. After the Steelers let Bell become a free agent in March, he signed a four-year deal with the New York Jets that guarantees him $35 million and could be worth up to $61 million, as reported by ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Bell hasn't played since January 2018, when he tallied two scores and 67 rushing yards on 16 carries in a playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. In July, the three-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All-Pro tweeted a humorous apology to fantasy football owners who drafted him ahead of the 2018 campaign. Gang Green fans merely want to see Bell click with second-year quarterback Sam Darnold, who has the goods to be the franchise savior the Jets have needed since "Broadway" Joe Namath guaranteed a Super Bowl victory.

Joe Flacco

Football, like life, is often cruel. Super Bowl XLVII MVP Joe Flacco, the greatest quarterback in Baltimore Ravens history, suffered a hip injury during a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in November 2018, and that setback opened the door for rookie Lamar Jackson to cement himself as the club's new starter through the end of the regular season. Jackson completed only 58.2% of his attempts, but the Ravens won six of seven with the first-year pro under center. The writing on the wall was visible to all observers once the Ravens relegated a healthy Flacco to the bench in December. Baltimore traded the veteran to the Denver Broncos in March 2019.

Thomas Hall of 247Sports listed a few reasons Flacco could flourish in his first campaign with the Broncos. The one-time champion has, in the past, found success relying on strong rushing attacks, which Denver offers with Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman featuring in the backfield. Lindsay, signed as an undrafted free agent in 2018, rushed for 1,037 yards and nine scores his rookie year. Freeman contributed 521 rushing yards and five TDs his debut season. Perhaps Flacco won't have to be elite to help the Broncos return to the postseason.

Earl Thomas

One can't help but wonder if safety Earl Thomas wishes he would've followed in Le'Veon Bell's footsteps and sat out all of 2018. Like Bell, Thomas found himself in the middle of a contract dispute through the summer months and early September. Thomas returned to his club, the Seattle Seahawks, ahead of the opening week of the regular season, and he performed well across the initial 12 quarters of the campaign until he suffered a fracture in his left leg in Week 4. With one middle finger made toward the Seattle sideline as he was carted off the field that Sunday, he bid farewell to what had been his only NFL home since he entered the league in the 2010 draft.

The six-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro continues his career with the Ravens, a team that probably has something to say to those predicting the Browns will win the AFC North title in 2019. Baltimore fans may be counting down to games against hated rivals the Steelers, but Thomas likely has October 20 circled on his personal calendar. The Ravens face the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field that Sunday afternoon. Let's hope Seattle fans use more than one finger to welcome Thomas back.

Landon Collins

Since signing with the Washington Redskins as an unrestricted free agent in March, safety Landon Collins hasn't kept his feelings about the Giants, his previous employer, a secret. As Ethan Sears of the New York Post wrote, the three-time Pro Bowler declared there was "no point" in even saying the Giants' team name while speaking with D.C. radio station 106.7 The Fan in July. Collins generated headlines later that month during an appearance on NFL Network when he said he would "run over" New York GM Dave Gettleman in a pregame warmup. Per Newsday, those comments earned Collins a talking-to from the league office.

It's understandable Collins feels disrespected that Gettleman and the New York front office didn't re-sign him at his desired value. Two realities the safety needs to embrace is that the Giants were never matching the deal offered by the Redskins, and also that the G-Men did him a favor by not holding onto his services with the franchise tag. Had the Giants gone that route, Collins would've earned less guaranteed money, in total, ahead of a second straight contract season. Questions about his coverage skills coupled with his asking price made him a liability for a New York team in the middle of a rebuild.

Ndamukong Suh

Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh last made a Pro Bowl squad in 2016. His outstanding performances, such as when he aided the Los Angeles Rams in playoff victories over the Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints in January 2019, are too often matched with disappearing acts that have made him an overpaid commodity the past couple years. Thus, it wasn't a surprise when Rams general manager Les Snead told reporters in March the veteran of nine seasons wasn't likely to return to the organization. Los Angeles needed to allocate salary cap space to other portions of the roster, and Suh isn't known for offering discounts to teams. He signed a one-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

In July, Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports tweeted the following: "I doubt Rams will say it publicly, but Suh was very difficult for former DL coach Bill Johnson to handle. Frankly, Suh was a poor culture fit." The Bucs need Suh to acclimate to his new surroundings immediately. Tampa Bay is coming off back-to-back 5-11 seasons, and Bruce Arians ended his retirement to take over as the team's head coach. Arians isn't married to Suh or to quarterback Jameis Winston, neither of whom are signed beyond the 2019 campaign.

Olivier Vernon

Odell Beckham Jr. is a lightning rod who attracts attention anywhere he goes, so it's only natural that his name is the first that comes to mind when individuals discuss how the Browns improved over the offseason. Don't sleep on Cleveland's acquisition of defensive lineman Olivier Vernon, who was part of the blockbuster trade between the Browns and Giants in March. After missing the first five games of the 2018 season due to an ankle injury, Vernon tallied seven sacks, 30 combined tackles, and a forced fumble across 11 contests en route to earning a first Pro Bowl nod.

Vernon is slated to start for one of the most intimidating defensive lines in the league. Myles Garrett finished his second pro season with 13.5 sacks. 2013 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and one-time Pro Bowl tackle Sheldon Richardson signed with the Browns in March. Third-year pro Larry Ogunjobi is still learning on the job and is eyeing a "breakout year," per the team's official website. Opposing quarterbacks, particularly those who have to face the Browns twice over four months, may have nightmares about that front unit.

Dee Ford

In a fair world, one play alone wouldn't define a career or a player's tenure with an organization. Neither Pro Bowl linebacker Dee Ford nor any of us live in such a society. When fans of the Kansas City Chiefs remember Ford playing for their beloved team, they probably don't first recall his 30.5 sacks across five seasons. Instead, they envision him lining-up in the neutral zone late in the 2019 AFC Championship, an infraction that negated what likely would have been a game-clinching interception to send the Chiefs to the Super Bowl. That one miscue didn't stop the Chiefs from slapping the franchise tag on Ford, but the team later traded him to the San Francisco 49ers.

As the Press Democrat noted, the Niners trading a second-round draft selection for the 28-year-old makes sense: "Last season, the 49ers' defense ranked 13th in yards allowed, a respectable ranking. But it also ranked 21st in third-down defense, 26th in red-zone defense, 28th in points allowed and dead last in takeaways." Ford forced seven fumbles during the 2018 campaign, which tied him with Houston Texans superstar J.J. Watt atop that category.

Clay Matthews

Sometimes, a player wearing a different uniform just looks weird and even wrong. That's the case with Clay Matthews, the six-time Pro Bowl linebacker drafted by the Green Bay Packers in 2009 who spent a decade with that organization until signing with the Rams in March 2019. The imposing pass-rusher with the flowing blonde locks became the poster child for contentious roughing the passer penalties ridiculed by fans and players during his final year with the Packers. Matthews' diminished sack total from 2018 only tells part of the story regarding his ability to break into backfields and take quarterbacks down.

On July 30, Rams cornerback Aqib Talib told reporters he believes the team's 2019 defense "definitely" can be better than the group that played against the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. Along with Matthews, the Rams also added six-time Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle during the offseason. Matthews won't be asked to play every down at this stage of his career. In fact, what he offers during midweek meetings and as a mentor to younger teammates such as Dante Fowler Jr. could benefit the Rams more than anything he accomplishes on Sunday afternoons.

Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen

It's a new day for the Miami Dolphins. Brian Flores replaced Adam Gase as the team's head coach, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill was jettisoned in favor of Josh Rosen and veteran journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick. Flores began August trusting the Fitzmagic he knows over the former Arizona Cardinals first-round pick. As ESPN's Cameron Wolfe wrote, Fitzpatrick has led the Miami QB battle "since the competition began in May." To put it another way, Arizona head coach Kliff Kingsbury choosing Kyler Murray over Rosen looks like a wise decision ahead of the preseason.

In Fitzpatrick, Rosen has a mentor who has experienced highs and lows over a long roller coaster of a career that began in 2005. Admittedly, it's slightly concerning one of the top-rated signal-callers from the 2018 draft class can't beat out a 36-year-old in the twilight of his career who lost his starting job to Jameis Winston the previous season. Miami trading for Rosen was always an investment in the future. Odds are, we'll see him play in November or December, if not sooner. Rosen is a 22-year-old starting from scratch and learning a different offense with a new team. Give him time, Miami fans.