NFL free agency began on Thursday and provided the wildest opening day of the official offseason in league history. Teams made shocking moves and surprising signings, players jumped to new teams with lucrative contracts, and the news cycle kept rolling.
As we recover from that explosive opening to free agency, let’s take a step back to break down the winners and losers from the first 12 or so hours of the new league year.
Look, it’s kind of embarrassing that they had to bribe the Cleveland Browns with a second-round pick in order to dump Brock Osweiler’s contract, but all that matters is a very talented team that was tight on salary cap space has disposed of an albatross and gained $10 million.
The 2018 second-round pick they gave up might one day be missed, but those are all crapshoots anyway. The money — and the resultant flexibility — is more valuable to the Texans right now than the draft pick. This is a team that is a quarterback away from being a contender, and now the runway is clear for Tony Romo.
The Eagles needed receivers more than anything. On Thursday, they signed arguably the best available receiver on the market — Alshon Jeffery — to a one-year prove-it contract that won’t tie either party down beyond 2017, as well as a 28-year-old former 1,000-yard receiver — Torrey Smith — to what is essentially a one-year, $5 million deal.
Throw in the cheap deal they got for former first-round pick Chance Warmack, who will also have one year to prove himself and bolster that offensive line, and it’s clear the Eagles are off to a conservative yet smart, low-risk, high-reward start to their offseason.
How desperate are teams for left tackles? Kalil is an indisputable bust. The 2012 No. 4 overall pick was one of the worst starters in football in 2014 and 2015, and he hardly played due to a hip injury in 2016. And yet on Thursday, the 27-year-old signed a five-year, $55 million with $25 million in guaranteed money to protect Cam Newton’s blind side in Carolina.
It doesn’t make sense. But kudos to Matt for getting paid despite sucking for most of the last half-decade.
Everything about Thursday was bananas. It came just days after the league made dozens of headlines with a more-interesting-than-usual Combine, and just a month after we witnessed the wildest Super Bowl of all time. Everything this league touches continues to turn to ratings gold.
This is really all you need to know…
The Redskins kicked off free agency by firing the guy in charge of finding free agents for the Redskins.
— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) March 10, 2017
But I’ll elaborate anyway by noting that on the day the Redskins fired general manager Scot McCloughan, they lost their top two receivers (DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon) and their top defensive lineman (Chris Baker). They did replace Baker, but with a substantially worse defensive tackle in Terrell McClain. Oh, and apparently their “franchise quarterback” doesn’t want to be there.
The Redskins are in complete disarray. Like, even more disarray than usual. That’s no easy task.
This one’s rather simple. They lost three key defensive players in Calais Campbell, Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger, and their only addition was washed-up safety Antoine Bethea — a dude even the freakin’ 49ers left out on the curb.
One year after losing two starting defensive backs and two key wide receivers in free agency, the Bengals immediately lost two starting offensive linemen — and two very good ones at that — in left tackle Andrew Whitworth and right guard Kevin Zeitler. Whitworth was a Pro Bowler each of the last two years and Zeitler is becoming a star. The former could have been re-signed relatively cheap due to his age, and he signed a mere three-year, $36 million deal with only $15 million guaranteed with the Los Angeles Rams.
The weird part is the Bengals had money to spend. Well over $40 million, according to Spotrac.
With Whitworth and Zeitler gone, along with Reggie Nelson, Leon Hall, Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones gone, and Adam Jones’ future up in the air, the Bengals then panicked and signed good-not-great corner Dre Kirkpatrick to the 11th-most-lucrative cornerback contract in the NFL.
For the second straight year, it looks as though the Bengals are going to take a step backwards in free agency.
The Jags aren’t necessarily worse off than they were before Thursday, but they inexplicably let talented young safety John Cyprien walk for a reasonably-priced contract with the division rival Tennessee Titans. Jacksonville replaced Cyprien with the younger and less talented Barry Church and then handed out the two most lucrative contracts of the day.
The first went to defensive end Calais Campbell, who received a four-year, $60 million deal, despite the fact Campbell has started 120 games over the last eight years and will be 31 before he plays in his next one. The second went to cornerback A.J. Bouye, who shined in 2016 but is now the fifth-highest-paid corner in the game, despite having started just 19 games in his four-year career. Pretty small sample to base a five-year, $67.5 million deal on, especially when you’ve already got 2016 No. 5 overall pick Jalen Ramsey at that position.
Second-round picks already cost about $6 million in salary, so why would the Browns — already flush with draft picks in the next few years — essentially buy a second-round pick in 2018 for $16 million? For all intents and purposes, that’s what they did when they agreed to take Osweiler’s contract from the Texans.
A lot of folks are saying that the Browns — who had more than $100 million in cap space entering free agency — were never going to spend that anyway, making the cap hit irrelevant. But that’s garbage. There’s plenty of talent out there, the Browns have plenty of holes and teams can even carry over any unused cap space from year to year. Voluntarily paying $16 million in order to gain a second-round pick in a future draft is bad business.
Oh, and this happened:
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 9, 2017
The Browns did salvage things a little bit by replacing Terrelle Pryor with the underrated Kenny Britt at a reasonable price and by improving the offensive line with the addition of Kevin Zeitler and J.C. Tretter. Now they just need a quarterback, and the offense will be in really good shape. And Cleveland still has a ton of money to spend and lots of draft currency. They can wind up in the winner’s circle this offseason, but were still losers on Day 1.