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The Schein Nine

My favorite moves of NFL free agency frenzy: Ravens, Falcons, Jets among nine teams deserving praise

March Madness is underway!

No, not the NCAA tournament. The NFL offseason! Color me obsessed.

Keenan Allen is a Bear, and it's awesome. Patrick Queen jumped from Baltimore to Pittsburgh, adding more fuel to the intense fire of my favorite rivalry in the league. The Rams brilliantly took care of their offensive line. And don't sleep on what Tony Pollard and Calvin Ridley mean for Brian Callahan's new-look offense in Tennessee.

That's just a little taste of this month's head-spinning roster reconstruction. It's an exciting time in the football world. 'Tis the season for legit optimism. So I'm here to spread more joy across the NFL landscape.

Here are my favorite moves so far this offseason, Schein Nine style.

1) Ravens sign running back royalty

Derrick Henry's relocation to Baltimore is sheer perfection on so many levels. Talk about the rich getting richer ... The Ravens led the league in rushing last season, after all. And now they just added "King Henry" to flank reigning MVP Lamar Jackson? That's a marquee move that we, the general football-watching public, wanted to see! And so did the running back himself.

Henry popped on my SiriusXM Radio show, "Schein On Sports," after the deal came together last week. He stated that Baltimore was a place he wanted to be and "a perfect match." Indeed it is. Henry's dominant, physical style is made for the "Play like a Raven" mantra. Baltimore needed to change the conversation after the disheartening home loss to Kansas City in the AFC Championship Game. Yes, the defense has been terrific for years and Lamar remains one of the most special talents in football today. But Eric DeCosta, John Harbaugh and Co. couldn't just run it back in the coming season. They needed something new and exciting. Henry is exactly that.

The running back is motivated to make a run at a ring, and this Ravens squad clearly has the makeup of a true Super Bowl contender. I don't want to hear about Henry turning 30 this past January. He's been the runner-up in the rushing race in each of the past two seasons, and if you haven't noticed by now, the 6-foot-3, 247-pounder is just built different. Not to mention, Jackson will be even more comfortable in Year 2 with Todd Monken as his offensive coordinator -- which is a frightening thought for the rest of the league -- meaning the Ravens won't need to overwork their new RB1. Carry the ball 15 times a game, move the chains, score touchdowns and close out wins in the fourth quarter. This is really a match made in heaven.

2) Falcons sign Kirk Cousins

You like that?! Yes, I love it! I speculated about this potential pairing for months, and now it's real!

As I've said many, many times before, Kirk Cousins sits in the 8-to-16 range in quarterback power rankings, depending on the week. Oftentimes, he's squarely in the top 12. And Captain Kirk represents a monster upgrade over the haphazard play we saw at the position in Atlanta last year. Cousins is a leader in the locker room and community. I cannot wait to see the quarterback's rapport with the underrated Drake London, as well as newly acquired receivers Darnell Mooney and Rondale Moore. He will maximize tight end Kyle Pitts (finally!) and make this offense hum. Bijan Robinson will no longer be a shiny hood ornament; the do-it-all back will be a weekly game-changer. Cousins will have new Falcons OC Zac Robinson calling plays from the Shanahan/O'Connell system in which he thrived.

Atlanta has big-time talent. I dig the Jessie Bates-led defense, too. And I loved the Raheem Morris hire. Signing Cousins is the masterstroke that brings it all together. This is the kind of move that will allow the Falcons to win the NFC South and emerge as a top-four team in the conference.

3) Chiefs recommit to Chris Jones

Congrats to Kansas City on winning another title? Should I eliminate the question mark? I'm Ron Burgundy?

Travis Kelce is a legend, but Chris Jones is higher on the list of reasons why the Chiefs keep winning Super Bowls. No, I'm not worried about his age. He's not even 30 yet, and defensive tackle is a position where the cream of the crop can age gracefully. Jones remains dominant. He makes the biggest plays in the biggest spots. Remember the second-and-9 at Buffalo late in the Divisional Round win, before Tyler Bass' missed field goal? How about the third-down pressure on Brock Purdy in overtime of the Super Bowl, forcing San Francisco to settle for a field goal?

Mahomes. Jones. Kelce. Reid. Spags. Veach. What a core. Who's ready to hoist another Lombardi?

4) Giants trade for Brian Burns, part ways with Saquon Barkley

This Brian Burns trade was an absolute heist. A second-round pick, a fifth-rounder and a Day 3 pick swap in exchange for a premier pass rusher? Remember when Carolina reportedly turned down an offer of two first-round picks for Burns back in October of 2022? Whoops.

Giants GM Joe Schoen needed to add dudes on defense. Burns is a flat-out pass-rushing stud. Yes, his production dipped a bit last year following Pro Bowl campaigns in 2021 and '22. In fairness, the 2023 Panthers were a total mess. Burns is a game-changer. The Giants will now team him up with Kayvon Thibodeaux and Dexter Lawrence on the defensive front. That's dreamy. And it will allow New York to blitz less, solving one of the big problems with last year's downtrodden unit. This was a savvy move, but it wasn't the only decision to praise.

The Giants were smart to not pay Saquon Barkley. For a team in transition that doesn't have a proven franchise quarterback, a highly paid running back is a luxury item. It made sense for the Eagles to add Barkley. He's a key cog on a loaded machine that should contend in 2024. The Giants took some heat because Barkley went to the hated division rivals. Whatever. Big Blue's management did the right thing here, not bowing to public opinion.

5) Texans add Danielle Hunter, Joe Mixon

Following the remarkable 2023 debuts of quarterback C.J. Stroud and head coach DeMeco Ryans, I really think the Texans are ready to take the AFC by storm. And I love when young teams that are close truly go for it, making moves to legitimately level up and bang with the big boys.

It goes without saying that an edge-rushing duo of Danielle Hunter and Will Anderson Jr. will benefit the Texans in a hypothetical playoff game against Patrick Mahomes' Chiefs. You don't need me to tell you that Joe Mixon is a clear upgrade at running back, someone who can run on Kansas City's defense.

This team is for real. Get used to Houston being squarely in the mix of a loaded AFC championship hunt. The Texans have the quarterback, the coach and the clear will to continue getting better.

6) Buccaneers run it back

I had Lavonte David on my SiriusXM radio show before the start of free agency, and the longtime Bucs star laid it out to me. Per the linebacker:

  • Mike Evans needed to remain in Tampa, as the veteran wideout's still playing like a star (and future Hall of Famer).
  • The Buccaneers couldn't mess around with quarterback Baker Mayfield, whose strong leadership and play energized the entire building throughout last year's playoff campaign.
  • Antoine Winfield Jr. could NOT hit the open market, as one of the best safeties in the game at age 25.
  • And as for David himself? The Bucs stalwart deeply desired to stay in Tampa, loving the city, the team and the idea of playing for one franchise during his entire career.

Check. Check. Check. And check. Take a bow, Jason Licht. I love it.

7) Packers sign Josh Jacobs, Xavier McKinney

GM Brian Gutekunst did yeoman's work on the first day of the negotiating period, stealing RB Josh Jacobs away from the Raiders and pouncing on an emerging star at safety in former Giant Xavier McKinney. I was pleasantly surprised because, as more of a draft-and-develop operation through the years, Green Bay hasn't typically been too active in the pursuit of high-profile free agents. Two historic exceptions: Reggie White and Charles Woodson. Talking to Woodson on SiriusXM last week, he laughed at Jacobs following in his footsteps, leaving the Silver & Black for the Pack. And he raved about Green Bay's moves.

I think Jacobs is one of the best running backs in the sport today. McKinney, still just 24 years old, could become a household name in Titletown.

8) Raiders hand Christian Wilkins the BAG

The Raiders lost Josh Jacobs, but they gained a true game-wrecker on the other side of the ball. I don't want this signing to get lost in the shuffle of the free agency frenzy. Not that Christian Wilkins, a monster of a man and menace at defensive tackle, could ever get lost. And shoot, he just signed a $110 million contract, for God's sake. But I still feel like the move isn't getting the attention it deserves.

Wilkins, who's fresh of a dynamic nine-sack campaign in Miami, is worth every single penny. He's a disruptive force who was born to be a Raider. Putting him on the same defensive front as Maxx Crosby is nightmare fuel for opposing offenses.

9) Jets add four offensive starters and a legit backup quarterback

I know, I know: Mike Williams is coming off a torn ACL. But he suffered the injury way back in September, meaning he should already be relatively far along in the recovery process. I love him as a complement to young stud Garrett Wilson. Williams is a beast with great hands, height and route-running ability. Wilson has eclipsed 1,000 yards in each of his first two NFL seasons, despite playing with a series of underwhelming quarterbacks. The Jets could boast a top-five receiving duo in 2024, especially with the man returning under center.

Yes, this is a dream for a healthy Aaron Rodgers. And so is getting three new veteran starters on the offensive line.

Tyron Smith, like Williams, signed a one-year contract for this all-in season in New York. Also like Williams, Smith's a star who just needs to stay healthy. If the 33-year-old left tackle plays 14 games, that's a win. Joe Douglas also nabbed OT Morgan Moses and OG John Simpson to start up front. Suddenly, Gang Green has a viable O-line.

All of that wise wheeling and dealing gives Douglas options with the No. 10 overall pick. One of the Big Three receivers might fall to the Jets. Or they could take the initiative and go YOLO, as our guy Daniel Jeremiah just projected, trading up for Marvin Harrison Jr. They can take an offensive tackle, to build depth and long-term stability at the position. Or maybe Douglas wants to add more to a great defense. It's all possible.

Meanwhile, Tyrod Taylor is the ultimate insurance policy if Rodgers gets hurt again. The veteran signal-caller is an obvious upgrade from the overmatched backups New York rolled out last season.

Nobody wants to hear it, but the Jets absolutely should make the playoffs. Everything that we thought could happen with this franchise last season should be in play for 2024.

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