The NFL's official calendar year isn't even a week old, and already we've had enough moves to fill an entire offseason. The New England Patriots are still competing as if the Super Bowl never ended. The Houston Texans are back in a familiar place, with their eyes on a new option under center. Even Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson -- a man who usually shies away from gambling big in free agency -- has stepped out of his comfort zone with a couple recent signings to improve his offense.
The point to be made here is that it's never too early to start thinking about how all this movement will affect what ultimately happens on the field this coming fall. It's one thing to talk about an assortment of transactions in March. It's quite another to think about what they'll all mean come September. So here is a quick summary of the five offseason decisions -- thus far -- that will have the greatest impact on the 2017 NFL season ...
1) New England Patriots trade for Brandin Cooks
If this were any other team giving up a first- and a third-round pick for Cooks and the New Orleans Saints' fourth-round pick in this year's draft, you might think this was a hefty price to pay for a speedy receiver with three seasons of NFL experience. Since it's the Patriots, it reeks of genius. New Orleans was eager to move Cooks because Michael Thomas was a rookie sensation and the Saints need to improve their defense. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick wants to get as many weapons around quarterback Tom Brady as possible, and here's a young talent who produced 78 receptions for 1,173 yards and eight touchdowns in 2016.
2) Houston Texans dump Brock Osweiler
Give the Texans credit for this much: They knew when to cut and run from a mistake. They went all-in on Osweiler last offseason, giving him $37 million in guaranteed money because they thought he could be the answer to their quarterback problems. By the end of the year -- one that saw the Texans win a second straight AFC South title -- they'd already given up on him.
However, the Texans aren't high on this list because they sent Osweiler and a second-round pick to Cleveland in an obvious salary dump. It's because of what that move could mean for their quarterback situation going forward. It's no secret that the Texans are interested in acquiring Dallas quarterback Tony Romo. It's just a matter of how they hope to make that happen. There have been reports that Romo was on the verge of being released last week, but he's still on the Dallas roster right now. That means Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is clearly willing to wait to see how badly some team wants a quarterback who already said goodbye to Dallas.
The smart money says Romo winds up in Houston with a strong defense and some fleet-footed offensive weapons. If that happens -- and he stays healthy -- the Texans will be really, really good.
3) Green Bay Packers upgrade the tight end position
That deafening noise you heard coming from northern Wisconsin last week was the sound of endless Packers fans uttering their gratitude for a free-agent signing. It's well-known in those parts that general manager Ted Thompson prefers to focus on building his teams through the draft while rarely investing big on the open market. Well, Thompson broke his tendencies early this offseason by quickly signing tight ends Martellus Bennettand Lance Kendricks. These additions mean Thompson is finally doing what Packers fans have been praying for him to do: He's giving star quarterback Aaron Rodgers more weapons. These moves also suggest that Green Bay might be more open to using multiple-tight end formations in the coming year.
The Packers have been one of the worst teams in the league when it comes to utilizing the tight end. However, the success former Packers TE Jared Cook enjoyed in the second half of last season might have been a revelation that opened Thompson's mind to a different way of thinking. Last season alone, Bennett (formerly with the Pats) and Kendricks (Rams) generated 105 receptions between them. If they can create that same production in Green Bay, you'll hear even more collective cheers coming from that part of the NFL.
4) Tampa Bay Buccaneers sign DeSean Jackson
Jackson had plenty of suitors, but he made a wise move by signing with Tampa Bay. The 30-year-old wide receiver still has plenty of speed to stretch defenses. Now he's joining an offense that features a third-year quarterback who is quickly coming into his own (Jameis Winston) and a fourth-year wide receiver who already has emerged as a Pro Bowl talent (Mike Evans). Jackson's arrival gives Winston a legitimate home-run threat, as he's averaged 17.7 yards per catch during his nine-year career and he's surpassed the 1,000-yard mark in three of the last four seasons. Jackson also should help Tampa Bay balance its passing attack. Last season, Winston targeted Evans on 173 of his attempts. The next-closest Bucs receiver in that category (Adam Humphries) saw 83 passes sent in his direction.
There are still a few things for Tampa Bay to figure out, but this felt like a team on the rise in the second half of 2016. It finished 9-7 and was still in the hunt for a playoff spot late in the year. The Bucs already had some nice pieces to feel good about heading into the offseason. Now -- especially while competing in a division that houses the last two NFC champions in Atlanta and Carolina -- they are sending a clear message that their offense will be more dangerous this coming fall.
5) Kansas City Chiefs lock up Eric Berry on a long-term deal
The only surprise here is that it took an entire year for the Chiefs to lock up their All-Pro free safety. They couldn't get that done last offseason -- after Berry had played an inspirational season after beating cancer -- and Berry had made it clear that he would rather sit out than play under a franchise tag for a second consecutive year.
By the way, this isn't just about Kansas City making Berry the league's highest-paid safety (with a six-year, $78 million deal). It's about the Chiefs locking up the most respected, inspirational player in that locker room, and a player who became a true game-changer in 2016. Berry became better at generating turnovers -- some of which directly led to victories -- while also continuing to be a strong veteran presence in K.C. The Chiefs are already seeing a change in their leadership, as talented, more combustible Pro Bowlers like cornerback Marcus Peters and tight end Travis Kelce are becoming more comfortable speaking their minds publicly. Head coach Andy Reid will need a steadying presence like Berry to help this team navigate through whatever adversity it encounters next season.