The first day of NFL free agency is a lot like Black Friday at a big box store. Some people bring a meticulously crafted shopping list and have surveyed the retail landscape to ensure they get the best deal on every single item they need. Others panic and grab the most expensive things they can find.
Whichever the method, there are nerves and anxiety. Sometimes, no matter how long you plan, some moron grabs that special edition Teddy Ruxpin you’ve had your eye on for months before you can. They already have three Cabbage Patch Kids and two Pound Puppies in their cart, too! (Fun ’80s fact: if you put a death metal cassette in Teddy Ruxpin, he would still sing it. It was freaky.)
In the NFL, the start of free agency has been less about talking bears and more about walking Broncos, swooping Eagles and Giant moneybags.
Let’s get this out of the way: It’s impossible to know who “won” free agency until the players take the field. How often do we laud teams for making big ticket moves in the off-season only to see that translate to fewer wins than anticipated in the regular season. The Dolphins overpaid for Ndamukong Suh, were “finally serious” about “winning” and they won two fewer games than the year before. Chip Kelly and the Eagles made a ton of big-ticket purchases last season and almost all of them have been returned, re-gifted or sold off for parts.
So, no, we don’t really know who won and lost free agency until the rest of the off-season is complete, including the draft. And we won’t even know until the pre-season or deep into the regular season which first-day purchases were the best. And yet, some of the players have already won, and it’s fun to guess which NFL teams have gotten better, and which may have missed out on the 56-inch 1080p and now have to settle for a TV-VCR combo instead.
Here are some winners and losers of day one of NFL free agency. Please have your receipt ready for any returns or exchanges.
Winners: Olivier Vernon and Janoris Jenkins
In a day, Vernon went from being slapped with the transition tag in Miami to getting a record deal for defensive ends, signing a monster five-year, $85 million deal with the New York Giants with $52.5 million in guarantees, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. That’s not a bad day for a guy with 29 sacks and 196 combined tackles in 64 career games.
Vernon joins Jason Pierre-Paul in New York, as JPP inked a one-year deal for a reported $10 million to stay with the G-Men. High five to the Giants for bolstering their pass rush.
New York also added Janoris Jenkins on a five-year, $62.5 million deal that reportedly includes a $29 million signing bonus to beef up their anemic secondary. The Giants may well be winners this season with these day-one moves, but surely those they (over)paid to bring in are the biggest winners of the day.
Loser: Miami Dolphins
Miami lost Vernon and saw Lamar Miller leave the backfield to join Houston. They also lost wideout Rishard Matthews, who isn’t making too many headlines, but was ranked 66th in NFL.com’s top 99 free agents. And they cut Brent Grimes, which allowed me to make this:
Miami, just now… pic.twitter.com/sZ8q7RZaqj
— Dan Levy (@DanLevyThinks) March 9, 2016
Miami signed Mario Williams, who may be a serviceable replacement for Vernon at this point in his career, but the biggest reason Miami are losers on day one of free agency has nothing to do with free agents at all. It’s the trade with Philadelphia that has people scratching their heads.
Miami took on Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso from the Eagles in a swap of first-round picks, dropping back from 8 to 13. Alonso is on the final year of his rookie deal, so even though he was horribly unproductive for Philadelphia in his one year under Chip Kelly, there’s hope he can get back to the player he was as a rookie in Buffalo. There’s hope. But to replace Grimes with Maxwell, who is amazingly overpaid given his up and down year in Philly and missed time with an AC joint issue that nearly held up the deal in the 23rd hour, should give Dolphins fans pause.
Miami had two days to re-evaluate the trade, reconsider taking Philly’s defensive dead weight and have every reason, per reports, to want to back out of the deal given injury concerns to both players, and they didn’t. As Dave Hyde at the Sun Sentinel wrote on Wednesday: Huh?
Winner: Howie Roseman
For a year, Howie Roseman was tucked in a broom closet somewhere deep inside the Eagles’ front office while Chip Kelly ran the show. Now, with Kelly gone and Jeffrey Lurie over his mid-life ownership crisis, Roseman is back in charge of the roster and is one of the biggest winners of the off-season so far.
Roseman re-upped Sam Bradford on a two-year, team-friendly deal, then went out and got new head coach Doug Pederon’s protégé in Chase Daniel, giving him a three-year deal with $12 million guaranteed, suggesting Daniel could compete to be the Eagles’ starting quarterback.
Roseman traded away DeMarco Murray—another Kelly mistake—to the Texans for a swap of fourth round picks (a clear contract dump) and with the money saved on dealing Maxwell, signed offensive lineman Brandon Brooks, linebacker Nigel Bradham and perhaps the best signing of the day for any team, safety Rodney McLeod, on a five-year $37 million deal, giving the Eagles a top safety tandem in the NFL.
Roseman also added corner Ron Brooks for depth and, on Tuesday, signed corner Leodis McKelvin. Both players, along with Bradham, come from a team coached by new Eagles DC Jim Schwartz just a few years ago. It looks like this offseason the Eagles are making the secondary their… primary concern. And Roseman is back in charge in Philly.
Loser: Andy Reid
Legal tampering has been helpful to teams this year, as deals can be agreed upon without all the cloak and dagger nonsense the NFL secretly loves—all news is good news—but publicly chides teams for routinely doing before the league year officially starts.
The Kansas City Chiefs got more than chided on Wednesday, as they were docked their third round pick this season and a seventh next year, plus got fined $250,000, with Reid hit $75,000 and GM John Dorsey docked $25,000 for tampering with former Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin last year.
The Chiefs didn’t deny the charges, but chairman Clark Hunt seemed pretty pissed that Roger Goodell has smacked the hammer down this hard.
“While we respect Commissioner (Roger) Goodell and the process, we believe that the penalties proposed in this case are inconsistent with discipline enforced in similar matters — particularly given the league’s inconsistent communication of its policies on contact with potential free agents,” Hunt said.
Winner: Oakland Raiders
On their list of best moves of day one, NFL.com chose the Raiders signing Kelechi Osemele to a five-year, $58.5 million deal at the top of that list. The former Raven, Osemele was rated as the third-best free agent this off-season and the top offensive lineman available.
The Raiders also signed Bruce Irvin, a solid cog in the Seattle defensive unit for years. Irvin reportedly inked for four years, getting $37 million in the deal.
This may technically be a second-day deal, but add in corner Sean Smith on a reported four-year, $40 million deal with half of that guaranteed. Oakland needed to address the secondary and Smith is a great start.
Loser: Seattle Seahawks
Seattle’s success is going to continue to catch up with them, especially on the defensive side of the ball, as young, cheap talent eventually wants to get paid and Seattle cannot afford to keep everyone, which means decisions have to be made on who to keep and who to let go. Last year, players like Maxwell walked and the Seahawks looked like soothsayers.
Seattle did re-sign Jeremy Lane to keep the secondary intact this season, but losing Irvin will surely hurt the front seven. Losing defensive tackle Brandon Mebane to San Diego could hurt even more.
Mebane was hardly a star in Seattle on a defense full of them, but he was solid and dependable, starting 125 of his 131 games with the Seahawks. Filling that void will be important for the team’s defensive dominance to continue. Seattle also lost starting guard J.R. Sweezy, who signed with Tampa Bay. Plus, Marshawn Lynch has packed up and gone home for good.
Seattle will surely still be a top team in the NFC, but losing key players on both sides of the ball isn’t a great start to the off-season.
#Seahawks '12 draft class has 6 players who got huge 2nd contracts: Bruce Irvin, Wagner, Wilson, Jaye Howard, Jeremy Lane, JR Sweezy. Strong
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 10, 2016
Losers: Cleveland Browns
In February at the NFL Combine, Sashi Brown—the new Executive VP of Football Operations for Cleveland—was asked about the rumored exodus of top free agents. Here’s what he said, via Dawgs By Nature:
“We are currently in discussions with a number of our free agents. Not going to be able to talk much in detail about that, but there’s a possibility that we’ll have a few back. We won’t be panicked on any one player but there’s some guys we feel like can contribute for us in the fall and we absolutely want to do everything we can, see if we can reach a deal that works for them and us and keep them as Cleveland Browns.”
A few weeks later, and it’s time to be panicked.
Tashaun Gipson is gone, signing a five-year, $35.5 million deal with Jacksonville. Also gone are center Alex Mack, who signed with Atlanta; receiver Travis Benjamin, who went to San Diego and tackle Mitchell Schwartz, who left for Kansas City.
But no worries, as the Browns did manage to keep one player on their roster through the first full day of the league year: Johnny Manziel.
Winner: Jacksonville Jaguars
Gus Bradley knows his time is wearing thin—if not with the front office, then surely with the fans—if he doesn’t start winning games in Jacksonville. Now, the team has given him a ton more help, bringing in Gipson at safety as well as Chris Ivory at running back, who left the New York Jets on a five-year $35 million deal—though just about $10 million guaranteed—and Malik Jackson, rated as the top free agent by many NFL pundits, to a whopping six-year, $90 million deal.
Jacksonville is a clear winner so far this off-season. Whether that leads to actual wins, remains to be seen.
Winner: Brock Osweiler
Osweiler sat behind Peyton Manning for years and when he finally got his chance, Denver took it away from him and gave it back to Manning. This gif, forever and ever.
Now, Osweiler has a ring and a ton of cash, jilting the Broncos for a monster deal with the Houston Texans. Osweiler reportedly signed a four-year deal worth $72 million, including $55 million in the first three years of the contract.
“It was very difficult to leave Denver,” Osweiler told reporters after arriving in Houston on Wednesday night, via the Houston Chronicle. “I’d be lying if I said anything else. I had a tremendous four seasons in Denver.
“Those are four years I will always hold close to my heart,” Osweiler continued. “Coming to Houston was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
Loser: Brock Osweiler
Sure, the money is great, and yes Osweiler must have felt like the team didn’t have his back when head coach Gary Kubiak benched him for a past-his-prime Manning, but if Osweiler was tired of waiting in Denver, he didn’t have to anymore, so it’s odd that he would leave a team that just won a title and has most of the pieces back for another to sign with Houston, a team that has been about as mediocre as one can get the last few years.
Since a 12-4 season in 2012, Houston has won just 20 games in three years. And, yes, a big part of their problem has been at quarterback, and they do have some dynamic wide receivers to throw to, but it seemed like Denver was pushing Manning out the door to hand the job to Osweiler. Off the field, Osweiler is a winner, and you can’t knock him for taking the money. On the field, this is one of those deals where we will have to wait and see in three years.
Winner: John Elway
Clearly there was no Plan B in Denver, not if B stood for Brock, at least. Elway wasn’t going to panic when Osweiler was offered top dollar elsewhere, making him a winner right now.
Of course, he doesn’t have a quarterback, so maybe Elway is the biggest loser, not a winner at all.
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) March 10, 2016
That’s my favorite tweet of the day, by the way. So you’re saying Elway “hinted” that the guy who left town to sign with another team didn’t want to be a Bronco? Why, I NEVER!
Loser: The Denver Broncos
Denver just won a Super Bowl, and now they have no quarterback. No, seriously, they have no quarterback. The only QB on their roster is Trevor Siemian. Surely there are options out there, but are any of them good? And if Elway’s goal was to ride Manning to a title then figure it out after that, he’s done a darn good job of sticking to that plan. If he expected Osweiler to fall in line and be the next great Denver quarterback, well then the Broncos are bigger losers than we’re letting on.
There are options—including names below—but this is a really big deal in Denver.
Couple that with the losses of Jackson and Danny Trevathan who signed with the Chicago Bears and Denver has some work to do with this post-championship roster. There could be more turnover too. C.J. Anderson has four teams interested in him, per reports, and half the offensive line needs to be replaced as well.
Yes, Von Miller is back, but what else will Denver need to stay a title contender in 2016?
Winners: RGIII, Kaepernick and benched quarterbacks everywhere
Quarterbacks thrown on the scrap heap are looking at the situation in Denver with wide eyes. Elway will be smart to kick the tires on either RGIII or Colin Kaepernick, or maybe both, to see if one can be at the very least a serviceable stopgap until he can find the next star quarterback to bring into town.
There is talk of trading for A.J. McCarron or maybe trying to draft the next starter and grabbing someone like Mark Sanchez from Philly just because he’s a warm body, but failing that—or failing the acquisition of Ryan Fitzpatrick as a free agent—Denver may be smart to deal for Kaep, or bring in Griffin to see what either has.
There was a rumor, now with Matt Cassel going to Tennessee, that Zach Mettenberger could be had in a trade. Could he have a future in Denver? Wow, there just aren’t enough good quarterbacks in the NFL. So congrats, someone else’s trash, you may become a treasure again soon.
Loser: Johnny Football
A friendly reminder that no matter what happens in Cleveland, Johnny Manziel is a perpetual NFL loser.