Technically, the new league year is just a day old. And yet so damn much has happened, partly due to the fact teams and agents were able to negotiate contracts well ahead of the official start to free agency on Wednesday. That means we’re already into the second wave of free agency.
Here are the winners and losers from the first wave.
Winner: New York Giants
They re-signed Jason Pierre-Paul while upgrading a lackluster defensive front the the huge additions of Olivier Vernon and Damon Harrison. Now, they have one of the best defensive lines in football. They also added ballhawk cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who should team up nicely with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. New York desperately needed to improve its 32nd-rated defense in order to compete before the window closes on 35-year-old quarterback Eli Manning, and on Wednesday it did exactly that.
Loser: Cleveland Browns
Despite having more cap space than almost everyone else in football, the Browns let four homegrown starters depart while signing nobody to replace them. Gone are former Pro Bowlers Alex Mack and Tashaun Gipson, as well as excellent up-and-comers Mitchell Schwartz and Travis Benjamin. All four were solid contributors last year, and and the Browns could have easily afforded all of them. Baffling. On Wednesday, a three-win team found a way to get substantially worse.
Winner: Oakland Raiders
They already have the pieces in place to win, but the Raiders kicked off free agency by upgrading on both sides of the ball. New offensive tackle Kelechi Osemele might have been the best lineman available, and new front-seven defender Bruce Irvin might have been the best pass-rusher in free agency. Throw in cornerback Sean Smith — who might have been the best cover man on the market — and it’s clear the Raiders have gotten a lot better this week. The cherry on top might be Eric Weddle.
Loser: Denver Broncos
Super Bowl winners always get picked over by free agent vultures and this year was no different for the Broncos, who lost their top two quarterbacks (Peyton Manning to retirement, Brock Osweiler to the Texans) as well as young defensive studs Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan. Oh, and running back C.J. Anderson (a restricted free agent) has signed an offer sheet with Miami, although the Broncos have the right to match. Regardless, Denver has taken at least a small step backward this week.
Winner: Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jags had a silly amount of money to spend so they were destined to be winners this week. Malik Jackson has the ability to become a game-changer for that defense, and they also upgraded the secondary with interception-happy Tashaun Gipson. Throw in veteran running back Chris Ivory and it’s clear they’ve gotten a lot better.
Loser: Philadelphia Eagles
Kudos to the Eagles for ridding themselves of some of the garbage outgoing head coach Chip Kelly left behind, but is Philadelphia really better off now than it was a week ago? The Eagles now owe $25 million a year to Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel and are left in a quasi-rebuilding mode.
Winners: Green Bay Packers and anyone else who resisted
Ten players have received guarantees of $20 million or more. Nine of those players have never been to a Pro Bowl. We now live in a world where Malik Jackson and Olivier Vernon make $17 million a year, where Janoris Jenkins is apparently worth $12.5 million and Brock Osweiler is worth $18 million. Those who were lucky enough not to have to involve themselves in the free agent frenzy are better off.
Losers: Veteran free agents
It’s clear nobody wants to invest in veterans. While most of the youngsters are gone, notable vets Andre Smith, Eric Weddle, Robert Ayers, Leon Hall, Evan Mathis, Reggie Nelson, Donald Penn, Rashad Johnson, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Chris Johnson, Chris Long, Jason Jones and Jahri Evans remain on the open market. All of those guys are 29 or older.
Winners: Every perceived top-tier unrestricted free agent
At least 17 players have already signed deals worth at least $7 million a year.
Losers: Derek Wolfe and anyone else who signed too early
Nowadays you’re in the right place at the right time if you’re a half-decent player who becomes an unrestricted free agent. Wolfe, who was every bit as good as Jackson in 2015, decided instead to sign a long-term deal with Denver in January. His deal? Four years, $36.7 million with $17.5 million guaranteed. Jackson’s? Five years, $85.5 million with $42 million guaranteed.