What a colorful article depicting the current NFL Free Agency market of winners and losers by Nate Davis of USA Today. Glad to see the Jets got Le’Veon Bell and that the Giants bid farewell to Odell Beckham Jr. freeing up a lot of investment (salary) money. Though Beckham is a wonderful talent, one player does not make a football team…and I’m sure the G-Men have some great building plans. Excited to see what can be accomplished with the Browns:
A few notable names remain available — and Josh Rosen is still an Arizona Cardinal — but NFL free agency seems to have largely run its course.
Who came out on top (and who didn’t?) among this week’s avalanche of signings and trades? Read on …
Browns: They’ll clearly be the sexy team entering the 2019 season after adding DE Olivier Vernon, DT Sheldon Richardson, RB Kareem Hunt and that OBJ fella this month. The trade for WR Odell Beckham Jr. was the story of the free agency period, given his relatively cheap price tag (two picks, only one a first rounder, and S Jabrill Peppers) and reunion with BFF Jarvis Landry, not to mention the apparent regression of the Ravens and Steelers. It seems highly likely the league’s longest playoff drought will end at 17 years, at minimum, but this team might even challenge for a first-round bye and more.
Safeties: The lottery began with Washington’s decision to give Landon Collins an eye-popping, six-year, $84 million deal ($44.5 million of it guaranteed) — the same Landon Collins whom the Giants deemed unworthy of an $11 million franchise tag. The pattern continued with Kansas City’s Tyrann Mathieu landing his own deal averaging $14 million, while Baltimore’s Earl Thomas came in just shy of that at $13.8 million per, though his guarantees at signing ($32 million) surpassed others at the position. Denver’s Kareem Jackson, Oakland’s Lamarcus Joyner, Green Bay’s Adrian Amos and Tennessee’s Kenny Vaccaro also did their part to ensure safeties no longer reside in the bargain bin — and just a year after quality players like Eric Reid and Tre Boston had to wait months to find work in a Charmin-soft market.
Jets: Now more than a half-century removed from their lone championship, they’ve been prominent free agent players many times before … with no hardware to show for it. This may be GM Mike Maccagnan’s last opportunity to take a big swing at a solution, and he paid handsomely for ILB C.J. Mosley (5 years, $85 million) and slot WR Jamison Crowder (3 years, $28.5 million) but added RB Le’Veon Bell (4 years, $52.5 million) and G Kelechi Osemele (swap of Day 3 draft picks with Oakland) at reasonable cost.
The slot: NFL defenses have spent about 70 percent of their time in the nickel package (five defensive backs) for years, even while many league observers still obsess over the distinction of 4-3 and 3-4 fronts as it pertains to base defenses. Simultaneously, most offenses predominantly deploy three wide receivers. Despite this, it’s taken a while for No. 3 receivers and nickel backs to be regarded as starters. However that’s apparently changing. Slot receivers Crowder and Adam Humphries (Titans) came in just shy of averaging eight figures per season while Cole Beasley (Bills) will get $7.3 million per year over the next four. On the flip side, Justin Coleman (Lions), Tavon Young (Ravens) and Denver’s Jackson — all of these defensive backs predominantly make their living matched up against inside receivers — are also earning serious financial compensation for their unique skill sets.
Packers fans: So welcome to free agency … what do you think? Things have clearly changed under new-ish GM Brian Gutekunst, who’s obviously willing to open the checkbook in a way predecessor Ted Thompson wouldn’t (though we’re still not sure about the Billy Turner signing, Bri). Amos and OLBs Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith are all excellent, if underrated, players — which Green Bay fans already deduced given their trio of four-year contracts add up to $154 million.
New Jag:Nick Foles pulled down $88 million over four years, vaulting him into the top 10 among quarterbacks in terms of total value (ahead of Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger and many others). Quite a coup for Foles given there didn’t appear to be a robust demand for him outside of northern Florida.
Old Jags: DT Malik Jackson (3 years, $30 million from Philadelphia), S Tashaun Gipson (3 years, $22.6 million from Houston) and OLB Dante Fowler (1 year, $12 million from the Rams) all landed on their feet after being prematurely shown the door in Jacksonville over the past year.
Josh Allen: The Bills didn’t go after blue chippers, but they did reinforce the offensive line in front of their second-year passer, notably adding C Mitch Morse, while giving him a short-range target in Beasley and a home run threat by snatching speedy WR John “Smokey” Brown.
Josh Allen: Not a whole lot of premium pass rushes on the market, especially to desperate teams like Oakland, so the Kentucky star still appears like a virtual top-five lock in next month’s draft.
Raiders: They may not be ready to dethrone the Chiefs in the AFC West just yet, but WR Antonio Brown, OT Trent Brown, WR Tyrell Williams and Joyner should immediately restore the Silver & Black to relevance. And given new GM Mike Mayock didn’t have to surrender any of the four picks he owns in this draft’s top 35 selections in order to pry Brown out of Pittsburgh, there’s still plenty of talent yet to arrive in Oakland this year.
Kwon Alexander’s agents: Rosenhaus Sports somehow got the 49ers to pony up a four-year, $54 million deal for a one-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker who tore his ACL last October. San Francisco has an escape hatch for 2020 if Alexander doesn’t rebound physically, but it still feels like he came out on the winning end of this negotiation.
Steelers … in the long run: The Antonio Brown situation had become untenable. And history will show that Pittsburgh tried to give Bell a top-shelf deal in 2018, not seek some hometown discount. The organizational compass — it points to continuity, loyalty, principled dealings and the like — remains true and should keep a flagship franchise largely contending as long as the Rooneys rule.
Steelers … in the short run: A club that failed to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2013 appears further weakened and will be hard pressed to overtake the Ravens and Browns in this division, much less battle the Patriots for AFC supremacy. Roethlisberger’s window should be open for a few more years, but no Lombardi Trophy will be passed through it after this season.
Le’Veon Bell: Was $35 million in guaranteed cheddar nice relative to his rather dispensable position? OK, sure. Did he get a better deal than the five-year, $70 million pact the Steelers offered last year, per reports? Almost certainly not. Did he “extend” his career by taking a year off? Dubious assumption, especially given he’ll surely absorb far more punishment with the Jets than he would have in a timeshare with Pittsburgh’s James Conner. Not buying the spin no matter what Team Bell might try to sell. When you gamble, oftentimes you’re going to lose. Sorry, Le’Veon … maybe you should’ve spent 2018 turning yourself into a strong safety or inside linebacker.
Running backs: We’re a long way from the days when Adrian Peterson commanded packages in the $100 million range. Bell was hardly the only one to serve as a reminder to “Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be tailbacks.” They’re hardly destitute, but it was shocking to see how little Mark Ingram (3 years, $15 million), Latavius Murray (4 years, $14.4 million), Tevin Coleman (2 years, $8.5 million), Carlos Hyde (1 year, $2.8 million) and others settled for. Dangerous as he still is, even Peterson only got a touch more than $5 million for another two years in Washington. Aside from Bell and maybe Ingram, one may literally be better off — financially and, certainly, physically — being a kicker or punter.
Giants: Dear Mr. Gettleman, even if I wholeheartedly agree with the divorce from Collins, I fear you will never live down the decision to export Beckham. Never. Ever.
Deshaun Watson: Houston’s quarterback was bludgeoned for 62 sacks in 2018, more than any passer had been subjected to since 2006. Admittedly, Watson could help himself by getting rid of the ball when there’s no play to make. But surely it wouldn’t have been too much to ask (or pay) for Matt Paradis or Rodger Saffold or Daryl Williams, right?
Anthony Barr: Let’s hope the Vikings linebacker has peace of mind after reneging on the Jets to take less money to stay in Minnesota and remain in a system that will probably never truly showcase his ability.
Bengals: They’re feverishly rebuilding the 2018 team — ILB Preston Brown, TE C.J. Uzomah, RT Bobby Hart — for reasons only clear to Cincinnati’s front office.
Ravens defense: New GM Eric DeCosta has worked in Baltimore for two decades, but this is the first free agency class with his name fully attached to it. He plainly didn’t overpay for Ingram, though didn’t rookie Gus Edwards look more than comfortable as the lead back last season? But DeCosta’s decision to dismantle the league’s top-ranked defense was the true head scratcher. Parting with veterans like OLB Terrell Suggs and S Eric Weddle or opting not to pay players entering their primes — Mosley and Za’Darius Smith — all seem like perfectly reasonable choices on a case-by-case basis, but the collective loss appears staggering even with Thomas coming aboard. This secondary is elite, but the front seven appears suspect entering draft season.
Ryan Tannehill: His new Dolphins bosses clearly don’t think much of him, yet they also haven’t been willing to grant Tannehill’s freedom even while unsuccessfully trying to lure Teddy Bridgewater home to Miami.
Colts fans: Don’t misinterpret this as a dig at Indianapolis GM Chris Ballard, who’s resurrected this franchise into a Super Bowl contender despite effectively lacking a head coach and a quarterback just 13 months ago. However after entering free agency with a salary cap war chest exceeding $100 million, the fan base can be forgiven for hoping for more than the retention of CB Pierre Desir and addition of WR Devin Funchess.
NFL sportswriters: A flurry of activity began even before the negotiating window opened Monday afternoon. Brown’s switch to the Raiders surfaced just as daylight savings’ lost hour was kicking in early Sunday morning. Bell’s deal also came down after midnight ET. Complaint? Nah. Just denoting this one goes into the “L” column.
Ball So Hard University: Welp. Its main campus in Baltimore seemed permanent after being established in 2003. Alas, school president Suggs was expelled and can only hope a satellite branch takes root in the greater Phoenix area. On a positive note, BSHU was not stained by this week’s college bribery scandal, unlike slightly more prominent institutions, including USC, Wake Forest and Texas.
- Nate Davis