It’s been 4 days since the NFL equivalent of the transfer window opened, and wow, what a hectic few days it has been! It all began at the start of last week when “legal tampering” a weird (oxymoron americanism) window opened, allowing teams to talk to players contracted to other teams and let them know they were interested in paying them bundles of cold hard cash when FA officially opened. There were rumours abound about every player of course, a lot of them fabricated by agents trying to raise interest in their players, and some of them actually proving true. If you want to keep up with the moves of NFL players in the off season, and indeed injury news when the season kicks off then you only really need to follow two guys @RapSheet – NFL insider Ian Rapoport and @AdamSchefter – ESPN’s version of Rap sheet. They are quicker than anyone with the news, and the bonus of following both of them is that it’s even harder to miss anything as it’s posted twice in a row!
So, where to start?! – I’m guessing if you’ve found this page, and are reading this then you have a pretty decent knowledge of the NFL and it’s workings, but just in case. Free agency allows players who have expiring contracts to test the waters and see what can they get elsewhere in the league, and it allows teams to add to their rosters without having to give anything to opposing teams. Each team has $167m to spend on their team, and must spend 89% of that figure or it will be eaten by the league and the owners have no choice on that…Teams had varying amounts of cap space to use in this window. The Browns being top of available cap space with over $100m, which is frankly ridiculous, and explains why they were able to make the first move i’ll be addressing, The Cowboys however started the window with the lowest amount – http://static3.uk.businessinsider.com/image/58b09218dd089533258b4a5c-800 for the full team list.
So obviously you would expect the Browns to be the most active of the teams in the league with the gigantic amount they’ve got available to spend, and well, they didn’t let us down. The Browns head office is run by Sashi Brown with Paul Di Podesta the main man in charge of bringing players in and sorting out personnel. You may have heard of him as the pioneer behind Moneyball in baseball, basically taking a highly analytical approach to acquiring players, using stats before the eyeball test and relying on results to choose their guys. Their other main approach has been to stockpile draft picks, they have 11 picks this year, and a 11 next years, meaning if they want they could draft an entire new starting, and backup line-up over the next 2 drafts! 2017 – 1, 1, 2, 2, 3, 4, 4, 5, 5, 5, 6 – 2018 – 1, 2, 2, 2, 3, 4, 4, 5, 6, 6, 7 – it’s not just the sheer amount of picks it’s the quality of them as well. This year they have the top pick in every round, add to that the 12th pick in the first round as well (because they traded out of top spot last year with the Eagles) They have 5 picks in the top 65 this year.
Anyway, back to free agency. The big deal of the first day was done by the Browns and shook the league with something it has never seen before. They traded a 6th round pick for… Brock. Osweiler and a 2nd round pick. I’ll admit, I was very confused at first, I mean did they see Brock last year?! He was garbage. Awful. Useless. Utter crap, and he’s on a massive contract! Why the hell would anyone take him and pay him $16m this year, have they gone crazy? I mean, I know they need a QB, but this doesn’t help anyone…Well, except the Texans, they can now go and get Romo with the freed up cap space… And the Browns, well, they get another high pick for the draft this year I suppose… And as it turns out, that’s exactly what they were doing. They had money to burn and burn it. They essentially paid $16m this year for a second round pick, a move that happens in the NBA free agency period, but had never occurred in the NFL. Thankfully Rapoport and Schefter were quick to point out what was going on so it didn’t boggle me for too long. It’s actually a very clever move for both teams. The Texans admit their mistake in taking Brock in the first place, and can improve their team. And the Browns get yet another pick, use up some of the cap space they HAVE to use and even, possibly get a bit of tradebait. I have read today that they’re looking to get a 3rd round pick for Brock and a 5th if anyone wants to take them up on that offer, that would lead to them having 6 picks in probably the top 80-ish, if no-one offers them that…Well, they’re just going to cut him. Drop him like a stone. It almost makes me feel sorry for the useless giant bastard. Then I realise he’s got a Superbowl ring, and many millions of dollars in the bank after playing 20-odd games of football and he’s probably not doing too badly. – Away from this crazy trade. The Browns did some brilliant work in FA. They weakened a league rival by signing up Guard Kevin Zeitler from the Bengals for a league high wage for the position. They also picked up JC Tretter from the Packers, as well as extending their own Joel Bitonio to a new deal. That gives them one of the best offensive line groups in the league. Now they just need a Quarterback to take advantage of the time they should be able to provide. It wasn’t all rosy for the Browns though, after saying they were going to build the roster around one guy, and that all players except him were trade-able, they let Terrelle Pryor go to the Redskins for $8m a year. There’s been rumours that he wasn’t a liked player in the dressing room, so despite how well he played last year they obviously decided against extending him. Good news for Corey Coleman and the newly signed Kenny Britt (a player I would have been happy to see my Bengals get on a reasonable contract) – Safe to say I think the Browns did some fantastic business in the brief time they’ve had so far. (Oh and RGIII has been released)
Next up a look at the 49ers. Another team who had a remarkable amount of cap space, nearly $80m, a new head coach, and a new GM. They decided on a different route to the Browns. They went with a “we’ve got money… lets use it as quick as possible, lots of it” approach to free agency. Unfortunately it’s the only way to really attract players to a bum franchise. They were VERY busy at the opening of the season. First of all, the leavers. Kaepernick opted-out of his contract so left and freed up a few bucks, Antoine Bethea chose this route too (good for him, he singed for the Cardinals later in the week) and Torey Smith was also released (and signed for the Eagles) these few moves freed up a little more cap space taking them to nearly $100m. So the spending began… Pierre Garcon was the biggest earner, signing a $47.5 5year deal with the club, and re-uniting with Shanahan who was his OC in Washington in one of his best seasons, good signing for the Niner who look like they’ll pair him with Jeremy Kerley who they re-signed for just over $3m a year. They added a lot of pace in Marquise Goodwin from the Bills, and Aldrick Robinson signed for $6m a year from the Falcons, again a player that Shanahan knows well and will be able to get a lot out of. After the release of Kaepernick they were left with no quarterbacks on the roster, so they made moves to allieviate that problem as well, re-uniting another guy with Shanahan, veteran Brian Hoyer coming in from the Bears, he was with Shanahan when they were both at Cleveland, and while the stats weren’t great when they were together, he at least knows the man and the system and he’ll be able to help integrate players into that system. Strangely the Niners signed another Chicago quarterback, bringing Matt Barkley back to the west coast, I thought he did pretty well for the Bears last season, so I’d imagine he’ll be fighting with Hoyer for the starting position, or even the backup spot should they think highly enough of anyone in the draft. For what it’s worth, neither @jayhatton49 or myself think they’ll take any QB high in the draft. They have more pressing needs and there’s no pass chucker good enough to take at second overall pick. They also added to their running game with Kyle ‘Juice’ Juszczyk (yous-check) on a huge contract coming in from Baltimore, making him one of the top ten paid RBs in the league, and unsurprisingly the highest paid Full back in history, adding his size and blocking ability to the fairly good running game they had with Carlos Hyde there looks like a very good move, and Juice is more than capable of catching the ball, it looks like he’ll be their version of DiMarco for the Falcons last season. They also added Tight End Logan Paulsen to help spread the load of Vance McDonald. They also overpaid on a few defensive players, bringing in linebackers Malcolm Smith (former Superbowl MVP from the Raiders on a 5 years $26.5m deal, adding another cornerback in K’Waun Williams, who was reportedly in high demand, and defensive back Don Jones, apparently he’s going to have to fight for a place on the 53 man roster when it’s named, whereas adding D-lineman Earl Mitchell for ~$4m was a very well priced signing and improves that position group immediately. Finally, they added Robbie Gould at kicker, meh. For me, I think they’ve also done some very good business and still have plenty more to spend.
2 teams down… 30 more to go… ok, i’ll have to blow through a lot of the rest of it now, well done if you’ve made it this far, I know having to read through the actions of the 2 worst teams from last season probably isn’t the most fun thing you’ll do this week. But on to the best team in the league, The Patriots. Remarkably they had the 6th most cap room to add to their Superbowl winning roster, and man, they did that! The rest of the league should get together and make it illegal to trade to them. They look stronger already going into next season which is a worrying prospect. They signed up Cornerback Stefon Gilmore from the Bills on a huge 5 year deal worth $65m! That’s not a usual move for the Patriots who generally control the league in wages as players want the ring and take lesser contracts than they probably could have got elsewhere. So Bellichek must see something in the guy to be willing to pay that much for him. There were strong rumours of the Pats tradining Malcolm Butler to the Saints in exchange for speedy wideout Brandin Cooks, but the Saints said, and i’m paraphrasing… “You know what guys, you can take Brandin for just a draft pick and keep one of the best corners in the league, we wouldn’t want to deplete your considerable resources at all” The Saints giving Cooks and a 4th round pick for their 1st and 3rd picks this year, seriously N’Orleans,that was the best you could do?! It should be noted that Schefter thinks the two teams will still be in talks about Malcolm Butler to the Saints as well, my guess would be the contract wasn’t viable for the Saints for a straight trade. They then signed Kony Ealy from the Panthers to add to their D-line, he wasn’t great last year, but he is a decent player. Martellus Bennett left the Patriots this week to join the Green Bay Packers, essentially ending Jared Cooks time there, but a great addition for Rodgers and his boys up there. The Patriots replaced Bennett with a practically identical deal to the one that brought Marty B to the team last summer, with Dwayne Allen from the Colts. He was second choice there between the newly rich Jack Doyle ($6m a year extension for him) so it was a sensible move all round, and he’s a great blocking TE to play second fiddle to Gronk, and step up when he inevitably gets injured. Duron Harmon a defensive back also signed for the Pats, I won’t pretend to know an awful lot about him, but he’ll probably be a pro-bowler next year knowing what this team does to players. One player who moved on from NE was Logan Ryan, the slot corner who allowed one of the fewest yards after catch in the league went to the Titans on a $30m deal. Good signing for them, and it looks like Dont’a Hightower could be on the move from the Pats as well, although they’re still trying to hash out a deal for him.
The hype-train is rolling into action again in Jacksonville, the Jaguars made some potentially cracking moves in free agency, bringing in 2 of the NFL.coms top 5 best free agents, Calais Campbell from the Raiders in a 4 year $60m deal, a 6’8″ Defensive End weighing in at 300lbs and able to play in pretty much any system, was ranked no.2 in the list and AJ Bouye, the former Texans cornerback was at no.5 in the same list, also joined in a bumper $67.5m deal over 5 years to play alongside probable all-pro talent Jaelen Ramsey in the Jags secondary. That’s two huge players to add to an already pretty stout Jaguars defence, they added to that even further with Barry Church at safety coming in from the Cowboys. They bolstered their O-line bringing in Brandon Albert from the Dolphins essentially in a trade for Julius Thomas. I think they’ll probably aim for an RB in the draft, although maybe a reach in the top 5, or possibly someone like Rex Burkhead who is apparently visiting them this week. If they manage to fix Blake Bortles who is seeing a QB guru over the summer and keep him from losing his mechanics, then who knows now they’re not under Gus Bradleys management. We get sucked in every year by them, but they have a heck of a roster on paper! Extra note – Prince Amukamara has signed for the Bears over the weekend.
The biggest losers from free agency were probably my Bengals team, as mentioned they lost a key man in the already shoddy defensive line who allowed a top 5 amount of QB hits last year, in Kevin Zeitler going to the Browns, but for me, their biggest loss was their leader in the dressing room, and 3rd in all time appearances for the team, Andrew Whitworth who moved out to LA to join the Rams. It was a huge deal for him at 35 years of age, but these two should have been locked down long ago. I’m sure he would have taken less money to stay in Cincy, but apparently they couldn’t even get that sorted. To say I was fuming would have been an over-statement, but I was pretty damn pissed off with the way the team has conducted themselves. But hey, we did re-sign Brandon LaFell and give Dre Kirkpatrick a huge contract… In all serious-ness I think LaFell had a decent year, and Dre should develop into a very good CB eventually. With the players they drafted last year hopefully returning fit, Will Jacks 3, Vigil, Billings, Westerman were all players who were rated highly when drafted it may not be as bad as it originally looks. But I wouldn’t be amazed to see the Bengals bottom of the division and the Browns up into 3rd in the North.
Sticking in the North, the Ravens made some interesting moves bringing in Danny Woodhead from the Chargers, he’s one of my favourite guys to watch and adds to West and Dixon in the backfield there (They may have known the Dixon was going to be out for 4 games with a PED suspension and signed him accordingly) They also stole Safety Tony Jefferson (13th on the NFL top 101 list) from the Browns who were offering more money, a good addition in their secondary, and re-signed Brandon Williams, as well as picking up the option on Mike Wallace. So despite losing Steve Smith Snr. to retirement they look like they’ll go into next season stronger than this year.
For me, probably the best move so far was The Buccs signing up DeSean Jackson from Washington to play no.2 to Mike Evans. It should open up the game for both of these guys, as teams won’t be able to double team Evans with the pace and playmaking ability of Jackson on the other side, and likewise with Jackson teams will have to watch the guy on the other side of him too. Jameis Winston now has a pretty complete set of guys to throw to in Evans, Jackson, Humphries and Cameron Brate at tight end. If they add a decent running back to help Jacquizz Rodgers (who signed a new deal) and Peyton Barber then they could be the top team in the South (It’s expected that they’ll cut the muscle hamster Doug Martin because of his recent drug revelations). They also raided the Redskins for one of their better defensive players, signing up Chris Baker (26 in that top 101 list) to sure up the other side of the ball. Well done Tampa.
The Eagles also added to their pass catching choices with a couple of potentially very good signings to help Carson Wentz in his second year. The number 1 free agent in the NFL list was Alshon Jeffery, he reportedly turned down more money and security to join the Eagles on a $14m one year prove it deal. While he struggled with injuries and a PED suspension at the Bears last year, he’s a talented guy who can go up and get it and will be able to haul in anything in his general direction from Wentz. They also took a shot on Torey Smith who before joining the bum 49ers was a decent pass catcher at Baltimore. He’s not a huge amount of guaranteed cash so will have to prove it to make the roster, but seeing as they have no-one else in that team who has shown the ability to actual catch a ball, he should make the cut. These two players should allow Jordan Matthews to play in the slot and help split the load that Zach Ertz had to carry last season. They’re another team that could do with an RB1, but it’s a loaded draft class so if they want to address that they should be able to.
The Bears were in need of a QB after cutting Jay Cutler and they made their move by picking up Mike Glennon from the Buccaneers in a big deal $15m a year for a guy who’s only started a handful of games in his career… It’s a risk, but their in re-build mode so they may as well give it a go. They obviously lost Jeffery, and haven’t exactly done much in replacing him, deciding upon a couple of average guys, Markus Wheaton from PIT and Kendall Wright from the Titans. Meh. They have one of the best young RBs in the league, so it’s not all bad from the Bears.
I can’t finish this article without a mention of Brandon Marshall staying in New York joining the Giants. Put him alongside Odell Beckham Jnr and Sterling Sheperd in the 3 WR sets that is their bread and butter and you’ve got a hell of a pass catching group there. Marshall and Beckham were in the top 5 in the league in red zone targets last season, and Marshall has the physicality to get the ball when Eli throws his weak passes. If Eli can regain a bit of form and they draft well at RB and TE, or bring in a few more in free agency (AP anyone?) then they should be a pretty decent prospect next year. Unfortunately for them their in the same division as the Cowboys and the Eagles who have strengthened and that division gets the joy of playing the AFC West next year, Broncos, Chiefs, Raiders and Chargers, so their fixtures are not easy!
I’m sure if you’ve got any interest in the NFL you’ve probably already read about all of the moves and are aware of what’s going on, but I’ve only just found time to write anything about it and we want to keep some content coming each week in the summer so was about time for me to get back to it.