Free Agency: The NFL Offseason, Phase 1
The NFL’s Free Agency period, marking the start of the new league year, officially began on March 18 (legal tampering period: March 16). This offseason will be unlike any other we’ve seen, as the league is one of many entities feeling the effects of the COVID-19 coronavirus. While other leagues have suspended activities, the NFL has decided to continue with the offseason as planned, but with a few teaks to keep everyone safe.
Here are my thoughts on some of moves made in the market so far:
The Texans traded their star wide receiver and a 2020 4th-round pick for David Johnson, a 2020 2nd-round pick and a 2021 4th-round pick. It’s been publicized as an awful trade for Houston. They added an aging running back with dwindling production and left Deshaun Watson with just Kenny Stills and oft-injured Will Fuller and Keke Coutee for a receiving corps. Not good enough for one of the league’s emerging stars.
On the flip side, a tantalizing Arizona offense adds one of the best weapons in the sport. Kyler Murray was just given everything he needs to become a superstar. He now has 2 legendary receivers to go with up-and-comers like Christian Kirk and Andy Isabella in an offense that loves to throw the ball around the yard.
Lions fans can be sentimental about this one, but the truth is, it was the right time for Slay to go. He’s been good to us the past 7 years, but his relationship with Matt Patricia was in shambles. He was also in a contract year and would have commanded more money than the team was willing to give a declining 29 year old corner. I wish him the best in Philly. They got a real one to fill a badly needed position. The Lions got the 85th overall pick and a 5th round pick for 2020 in return.
A year ago, Foles was the big name QB on the free agent market. Now, he finds himself heading to Chicago as Jacksonville hands the reins to 2nd year 6th round pick Gardner Minshew. The Bears have claimed he was brought in to push Mitch Trubisky, but I would expect Foles to win the job.
I already mentioned the Foles trade, but the overall quarterback market was going to get crazy even before that. Stars like Brady, Brees, and Rivers and other notables like Winston and Bridgewater saw their contracts expire.
Brees was the only one I mentioned to return to his team. Rivers left the Chargers after 16 seasons to take over the job with the Colts. Brady shocked everyone by leaving the New England dynasty for a promising Tampa Bay offense, replacing Winston, who has not signed anywhere yet. Bridgewater, who played well as Brees’s backup, went to division rival Carolina to replace Cam Newton. Ryan Tannehill was also resigned with the Titans after an impressive late season run, leaving Marcus Mariota to join the Raiders in Las Vegas.
Plus, there are still more dominoes to fall. With Cincinnati probably eyeing Joe Burrow with the #1 pick, Andy Dalton is probably available. Cam Newton and Jameis Winston still don;t have new teams, and New England is among the teams without a true starter. Any of these would be good fits for Belichick. However it plays out, the signings so far make for an interesting draft and remaining FA period.
It’s been fairly quiet on the running back front. The Titans gave Derrick Henry the franchise tag, and there was little movement after that. Melvin Gordon got less than he had wanted to leave the Chargers for a 2 year deal with the Broncos. Players released included stars with injury histories in Todd Gurley and Devonta Freeman. Gurley signed with his hometown Falcons, while Freeman remains unsigned.
Jordan Howard signed a 2 year deal with Miami, hoping to regain the form of his breakout a couple years ago in Chicago. Dion Lewis joined the Giants, and a few complimentary backs changed teams.
Several offensive line moves have been made. It took a while, but Andrus Peat has the biggest deal so far, returning to New Orleans for 5 years and $57.5M. The Lions signed Philly swing tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai to a 5 year, $45M deal, taking a gamble on player with limited starting experience. Graham Glasgow left the team via free agency and Rick Wagner was released. Glasgow got the 3rd highest deal among linemen and Wagner went to Green Bay. Wagner replaces Bryan Bulaga at right tackle. The best right tackle avaialable was Jack Conklin, who left Tennessee for Cleveland.
New England made an interesting move by giving Joe Thuney their franchise tag at the last minute, and also lost Ted Karras to Miami. The Jets and Bucs also improved their lines, and several other veterans signed short-term deals.
After a breakout season, Austin Hooper was the first free agent tight end to sign, getting 4 years and $42M from the Browns. It’ll be interesting to see what he can do in tandem with Njoku. Jimmy Graham signed with the Bears after being cut from the Packers, and Eric Ebron with the Steelers after the Colts did the same to him. In a surprising move, Jason Witten left Dallas after 17 years for a 1 year deal in Vegas. Dallas signed Blake Bell to help replace him.
The other 2 deals I consider noteworthy are Tyler Eifert and Greg Olsen. Olsen was technically the first tight end to sign since Carolina released him, but that was before the official start of the free agency period. He signed a 1 year deal with Seattle, giving Russell Wilson a legitimate red zone threat. Eifert will look to shake the injury bug in Jacksonville for the next 2 years.
There haven’t been too many notable receiver deals. Randall Cob has the biggest deal so far, heading to Houston for 3yr/$27M. Robby Anderson got $10M per year on a 2 year deal with Carolina, reuniting with his college coach, Matt Rhule. The Jets look to replace Anderson with former 1st-round pick Breshad Perriman, who showed signs of shaking off the bust label last year. Emmanuel Sanders signed a 2 year deal with New Orleans, giving Drew Brees another dynamic threat.
Devin Funchess switches teams again, this time heading to Green Bay. He has struggled to live up to the big play threat he was billed as coming out of college.
The defensive line market is curious. Many interior d-linemen have signed short-term deals. DJ Reader, the biggest name on the DT front, managed to get a 4 year deal from the Bengals. Javon Hargrave got a 3 year deal to leave Pittsburgh for Philadelphia. A few others got 3 year deals, but most were for a year or 2. These guys must have something to prove.
Robert Quinn has the top deal among defensive ends in Chicago, and Miami made a couple underrated signings in Emmanuel Ogbah and Shaq Lawson. Long time Bronco Derek Wolfe left for the Ravens. The biggest mystery so far has been Jadeveon Clowney. The veteran is the best pass rusher available, but has not found his desired market. He’s even dropped his asking price. Other proven veterans, like Everson Griffin and Ziggy Ansah also remain unsigned.
Dante Fowler signs a 3 year deal with the Falcons and former Atlanta star Vic Beasley goes to Tennessee for a year. Beasley had 15.5 sacks in 2016, but has struggled to resemble anything near it since. Atlanta also loses De’Vondre Campbel to Arizona, who also got Devon Kennard, after he was surprisingly released by the Lions. Detroit replaces him with Jamie Collins, who knows Matt Patricia well and can play all LB spots. Jordan Jenkins returns to the Jets after a productive 2019.
The Bears released former 1st-rounder Leonard Floyd. He signed with the Rams. After a breakout season in Green Bay, Kyler Fackrell joins the re-building New York Giants.
Several accomplished veterans remain, including Terrell Suggs and Clay Matthews. I would expect Markus Golden to sign somewhere soon as well.
AJ Klein shifts from New Orleans to Buffalo. Veteran Thomas Davis leaves LA for Washington, now coached by his former Carolina boss, Ron Rivera. Joe Schobert capitalized on his production in Cleveland with a 5 year deal in Jacksonville. Kyle Van Noy reunites with Brian Flores in Miami. The Raiders added Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski on 3 year deals. Blake Martinez joins fellow Green Bay castoff Fackrell with the Giants.
Green Bay adds Christian Kirksey to help replace those two. Kirksey was released by the Browns after 6 seasons. Tahir Whitehead was let go in Vegas, allowing him to join his college assistant coach, Matt Rhule, with the Panthers. Kamalei Correa stays in Tennesee on a one-year deal.
The corner market has been very active. Detroit traded Slay away just a day after signing former Falcon, Desmond Trufant. Trufant now becomes the team’s top corner. The best available corner, Byron Jones, left the Cowboys to join the Dolphins on a 5 year deal. Trae Waynes got $14M/yr to join the Bengals. Former Bengal and college teammate of Waynes, Darqueze Dennard had a deal in place with Jacksonville that didn’t go through. The Jags instead signed Rashaan Melvin, and Dennard remains available.
The Colts released Pierre Desir and he almost immediately joined the Jets. Indy replaced him with Xavier Rhodes, who was also released by the Vikings. Artie Burns got the change of scenery he may have needed by leaving the Steelers for the Bears. James Bradberry lands with the Giants, and Chris Harris lands with the Chargers.
Another position with lots of movement. Denver tagged Justin Simmons, and Minnesota did the same with Anthony Harris. The Eagles released Malcolm Jenkins, who returned to his old team in New Orleans. Vonn Bell left New Orleans for the Bengals and his home state of Ohio. Cleveland made the position a clear priority, adding Karl Joseph and Andrew Sendejo. The Browns needed replacements for Eric Murray and Damarious Randall.
Vegas continued to grab former Cowboys by signing Jeff Heath. Haha Clinton-Dix appears to be his replacement in Dallas. Will Parks heads home to Philadelphia. New England traded Duron Harmon to Detroit and replaced him with Adrian Phillips.
It’s not often that a Free Agency article covers special teams, but there were a few notable moves this year. Detroit needs a new punter, as Sam Martin left for Denver. Dallas appears to have an intriguing kicking competition between veterans Kai Forbath and Greg Zuerlein. Long-time Cowboys’ kicker Dan Bailey has been re-signed by Minnesota.