Free agency has begun. After a flurry of trades to open the offseason, the time has finally come for teams to start using their free agency money. Funnily enough, the two teams with the most cap room – the Colts and Browns – have barely spent in free agency thus far. The Browns made some big trades in the weeks prior, though, which makes their lack of involvement understandable. In the meantime, the Jets decided to take action with the 3rd most cap space, signing multiple big name free agents such as Avery Williamson, Isaiah Crowell, and Trumaine Johnson.
Kirk Cousins Contract
Those expecting Cousins to set the quarterback market were right, but the way he did so was unexpected. His 3 year $86 million contract leads the NFL in yearly average by a small margin, but it is the fully guaranteed nature of the contract that is unprecedented. Instead of potentially signing for over $30 million a year with the Jets, Cousins opted for a smaller sum and the chance to win a championship. The Vikings have one of the best rosters in the league and are Super Bowl or bust, so there is a lot of pressure on Cousins to succeed. This team will have bunch of young players to pay in the near future, something that could be a problem with Cousins’ astronomical cap number. Of course, the Vikings will care a lot less about these problems if they win a Super Bowl.
Chiefs Sign Watkins
In a stunning move, the Chiefs have signed Sammy Watkins to a 3 year deal for $16 million each year. The Chiefs were not expected to be in the market for either a wideout or big money player, but they acquired both in Watkins. While the intention to surround a young big play quarterback with young big play receivers was good, it is doubtful that the reality will end up as good as the theory. As a player, Watkins has struggled with injuries and hasn’t lived up to his potential on either of his two former teams. Even if he emerges as a true number one receiver, it’s a lot of money to pay by a team that is already flush with playmakers on offense. The defense, not so much. Perhaps the Chiefs are thinking long term, trying to develop Mahomes before competing for a championship. If defense wins championships, this move won’t get the Chiefs any closer.
Robinson to Chicago
Although pegged by many to go to the 49ers, the Bears struck first, signing Robinson to a 3 year contract worth $42 million. An excellent deal, the Bears signed a proven number one receiver to a below average deal for such players. It seems the Bears are trying to imitate what the Eagles and Rams each did last year by surrounding their second year quarterback with weapons to help him. The Bears are quietly building an extremely talented offense to go with an underrated defense, although Trubisky’s improvement will most likely mean more to the team than a few extra wins. However, improvement similar to that of Goff and Wentz is not imminent, as both of them were much more talented than Trubisky. The Bears are doing an excellent job building around their quarterback for his development, but for that to work, the quarterback needs to have the tools in the first place.
Aaron Rodgers’ Weapons Exchange
In an attempt to give Rodgers some help, the Packers released Jordy Nelson. This is not as crazy as it sounds, as the move freed up cap space that allowed the Packers to sign Jimmy Graham. However, it was still a questionable move for a variety of reasons. Releasing a player this close to the start of free agency is generally seen as a dirty move, especially when the player has been such an integral part of the organization for as long as Nelson has. Additionally, swapping out one aging veteran for another with a more limited skill set does not seem like a particularly smart move, even when the large sum of $2 million in cap space is saved. While former Packers GM Ted Thompson was a proponent of promoting internally, new GM Brian Gutekunst seems to be a proponent of making splashy moves to please the fans.
On the same day that the Vikings won the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes, all three of their former quarterbacks were scooped up. Teddy Bridgewater signed a one year prove-it deal with the Jets for $15 million, putting them in a very weird position. Although career backup Josh McCown is the presumed starter, Bridgewater is a Pro Bowl caliber quarterback coming off an injury, and the Jets still have the chance to draft a rookie quarterback. Josh McCown is known to be a good teacher, so the Jets seem to be banking on his helping develop at least one future starter for them. Meanwhile, the Broncos acquired Case Keenum for a sub-$20 million deal, putting them in a position to make a playoff run. Interestingly enough, Keenum’s low price tag and the Broncos early pick still makes them a candidate to draft a raw quarterback with a huge arm and experience in a pro-style offense. Unlike the intelligent moves made by the Broncos and Jets, the Cardinals did a bit of desperation shopping, signing Sam Bradford to a one year $20 million deal with an option the following year for the same price. While Bradford is a capable starter, he is not the future of the franchise.
Patriot Reunion in Tennessee
Months after hiring former Patriot linebacker Mike Vrabel as Head Coach, the Titans signed Dion Lewis and Malcolm Butler. Cornerback was a need for the Titans, and signing a proven number one cornerback to a five year $61 million contract is a smart move. He is a good fit in their aggressive man to man defense, and will be playing across from former Patriots teammate Logan Ryan. While I am not sold on Butler as a top ten corner, teams always overpay in free agency. Speaking of overpaying, the 49ers signed Jerrick McKinnon for $7.5 million a year while the Titans got Dion Lewis for only around $6 million per year. While the McKinnon deal was horrible for a multitude of reasons, Lewis fits perfectly with the Titans offense as a lightning to Henry’s thunder, giving them a much more cost efficient backfield than in the past. Although they are in a loaded AFC South division, the Titans are making the right moves on both sides of the ball to spark a playoff run.
Under the Radar Moves
Drew Brees will remain in New Orleans. Although everyone involved was certain that a deal would get done, it still comes as a relief to know that it’s official. This move was necessary for a Saints team with Super Bowl aspirations, particularly as they lack a successor to Brees. The deal itself was pretty straightforward, with $50 million over two years and $27 million guaranteed. While Brees is now among the highest paid quarterbacks in the league, it is obvious that he took a discount to stay with the Saints. In reality, the contract is only guaranteed the first year, signaling that both parties intend to take it year by year. Even with Brees playing at such a high level, drafting a quarterback in this year’s draft has to be a priority for the Saints, particularly with such a young and talented roster.
Bills Move Up
While the Tyrod Taylor trade confirmed that the Bills would be in the market for a quarterback, this trade shows how serious they are. In exchange for the 12th overall pick, the Bengals received the 21st overall pick and Bills’ starting left tackle Cordy Glenn. Late round picks were also swapped. The Bills have put themselves in a precarious position, as they are just outside the sweet spot to nab one of the top quarterbacks. There is definitely a chance that one of the top quarterbacks will fall to them, but with so many teams in the market for a young quarterback it is unlikely to happen. It is assumed that the Bills are looking to trade up again, but I doubt they will be able to do so until draft night. There is a clear drop-off in talent after the elite prospects, and not many teams would be willing to trade down from the top ten without more compensation than the Bills are willing to part with.
Solder to Giants
After trading for linebacker Alec Ogletree, the Giants have shored up another hole by signing former Patriot left tackle Nate Solder to a 4 year $62 million contract. Offensive line has been a major issue for the Giants for quite some time, even with the amount of draft capital spent on the position. After the Giants brass affirmed their belief in Eli Manning, it looks like their best option with the second overall pick is Saquon Barkley. The Solder signing is mostly important for Eli, and it looks like the Giants are going to push for a playoff spot rather than rebuild.