By the time the NFL free agent market officially opened at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, there already had been trades arranged involving Odell Beckham Jr. and Antonio Brown. Former Super Bowl MVPs Nick Foles and Joe Flacco already have new teams, and fellow quarterback Case Keenum already is headed to Washington.
There are still smaller moves to be made — many of which could ultimately have more impact than the expensive ones already completed — but for now, he’s a look at who has done well and who hasn’t.
The Browns are building a powerhouse. Believe it. Those are words that don’t seem to go together, but General Manager John Dorsey continues to push the right buttons. He gave up plenty to the New York Giants in the trade for wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., but it was well worth it. The Browns get perhaps the game’s most dynamic player. Cleveland’s offensive lineup now will have Baker Mayfield at quarterback, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt (following his likely suspension by the NFL) splitting playing time and carries at running back, Jarvis Landry and Beckham as a wide receiver tandem and David Njoku at tight end. That could put the Browns among the AFC’s elite. And don’t forget the trade for Olivier Vernon and the free agent deal for Sheldon Richardson. Those moves fortify the defensive front, which already featured rising star edge rusher Myles Garrett. Dorsey has the Browns zooming past respectability to legitimate contender status. They’ll have to deal with expectations, for a change, and they’ll have a rookie head coach in Freddie Kitchens. But having expectations is a good problem to have.
Diva wide receivers
Antonio Brown gets a new contract from the Raiders after forcing his way out of Pittsburgh. Beckham could get an adjustment to his contract from the Browns. Being a high-maintenance player sometimes is part of the deal at this position. And, in these cases, it’s paying off quite handsomely.
The Raiders have a long, long way to go to reach respectability in Year 2 of Jon Gruden’s return to coaching. Last year’s trades of pass rusher Khalil Mack and wide receiver Amari Cooper left the roster depleted. But the Raiders are beginning to replenish their talent level. The trade for Antonio Brown gives them perhaps the league’s top wideout. He’s just shy of his 31st birthday, but the Raiders only gave up third- and fifth-round picks to get him. The free agent deals for offensive tackle Trent Brown, wide receiver Tyrell Williams and safety Lamarcus Joyner also help. It’s usually a mistake in the NFL to equate free agent activity with having a sound rebuilding plan. But the Raiders need all the help they can get, and they’ve gotten some.
He is a former Super Bowl MVP. He has a statue (depicting the sideline deliberation with Coach Doug Pederson leading to the famed “Philly Special” trick-play touchdown in the Super Bowl) at Lincoln Financial Field. But is he a legitimate franchise quarterback? It’s difficult to assert that, given the ups and downs of his career. But now he has a contract worthy of a franchise quarterback, getting $88 million over four seasons from the Jaguars, including $50 million guaranteed.
The safety somehow avoided being franchise tagged by the Giants, which would have meant a one-year deal worth $11.15 million. Instead, he gets a six-year, $84 million megadeal from the Redskins that includes $45 million in guaranteed money. That’s some serious good fortune.
New York Jets
Winning free agency in March rarely translates into winning games between September and December. But the Jets, like the Raiders, were in desperate need of upgrading the roster, and they have taken positive steps by adding running back Le’Veon Bell, wide receiver Jamison Crowder and linebacker C.J. Mosley. The Jets may have been left bidding against themselves for Bell but controlled themselves and got him for a reasonable price tag. They won a bidding war for Mosley, a four-time Pro Bowl selection while with the Ravens, with a five-year deal worth about $85 million. They also had a deal lined up with fellow linebacker Anthony Barr before he changed his mind and decided to remain with the Vikings. Still, the defense unquestionably has been upgraded. On offense, it’s all about aiding the development of young quarterback Sam Darnold. And the arrivals of Bell and Crowder help greatly in that regard.
New England Patriots free agents
Trent Brown gets $66 million over four years from the Raiders. Pass rusher Trey Flowers gets $90 million over five years from the Lions. It was very good to be a Patriots player hitting the free agent market.
New England Patriots
The Patriots lost some very good players with the exits of Brown and Flowers. Somehow, they probably will find a way to overcome it, don’t you think?
Green Bay Packers
Yes, the Packers actually are making moves in free agency, with the deals for pass rushers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith and safety Adrian Amos. These are different times in Green Bay with Brian Gutekunst in charge as general manager.
San Francisco 49ers
The big contract handed out to linebacker Kwon Alexander is a risk, given that he’s coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament that cut short his 2018 season. But if that works out, that signing and the trade with the Chiefs for pass rusher Dee Ford help the defense considerably, and they added a talented running back in former Atlanta Falcon Tevin Coleman with a modest two-year, $10 million deal.
By sitting out this past season, he passed up the $14.5 million that he would have made under his franchise-player deal with the Steelers. There was talk of him wanting a contract worth $16 million or more per season in this market. Instead, he gets $13.125 million per season in his four-year, $52.5 million deal with the Jets. There’s absolutely no problem with a player making a business decision and doing what’s best for him, even if it means sitting out a season. But it needs to be a sound business decision. Bell misjudged his market. As former NFL front office executive Andrew Brandt wrote on Twitter: “Hearing the ‘Well LeVeon didn’t want to play for the Steelers, he didn’t get hurt, etc.’ Please. $15M is life-changing money, especially for the position with the shortest shelf life in professional sports. He’ll never make it back.”
New York Giants
What’s the plan here by General Manager Dave Gettleman? The Giants certainly weren’t in rebuilding mode last year when they kept quarterback Eli Manning and used the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft on running back Saquon Barkley instead of on a successor to Manning, and retained Beckham and gave him a new contract. That win-now approach resulted in a miserable 2018 season. Now Beckham is gone but Manning remains. Is Gettleman rebuilding around a 38-year-old quarterback? Barkley is superb. But the time to get Manning’s successor was in last year’s quarterback-rich draft, not this year’s. Meanwhile, it remains inexplicable why Gettleman didn’t use the franchise player tag to keep Collins.
Antonio Brown is gone. Running back Le’Veon Bell is set to join the Jets after sitting out all of this past season in a contract stare-down with the Steelers in which he did not blink. That’s a problem. It’s also a problem that the Steelers have so little to show for it after failing to get any of the Raiders’ three first-round draft picks in the Brown trade. The Steelers might hope this is addition by subtraction. But those are two awfully productive players no longer in the offense.
Collins is an excellent player who will help the defense. But $84 million to a safety? Some in and around the league were baffled about that.
Some look at what the Lions have done and like it. But be wary. Coach Matt Patricia and General Manager Bob Quinn are former Patriots employees and seem to be doing their best to reassemble the Patriots in Detroit, with the deals for Flowers and wide receiver Danny Amendola. Perhaps someone should tell them that as long as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady remain in Foxborough, Mass., it’s probably not going to work. Giving huge money to a player the Patriots allow to leave, as the Lions did with Flowers, is risky. Do you really think that you know more than they do about one of their players?
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