2017 NFL Free Agency: Trade-happy Patriots big winners, top receivers losers

Friday didn’t bring the same sort of chaos that Thursday brought. Instead, it was a nice, calm, relaxing, and uneventful day. 

Just kidding -- the second day of free agency might’ve started slow, but it turned into another crazy affair. It involved: 

  • Two trades by the Patriots
  • The Packers actually signing a top free agent
  • The best available receiver on the market landing with the Redskins
  • Much more.

Let’s break it all down with winners and losers from Day 2 of free agency.

Winners

The Patriots: The rich get richer. Unbelievably, the Patriots -- already the best team in football -- found a way to improve substantially. They didn’t do that by signing free agents but instead by engineering the trade of the offseason. Parting ways with a first-round pick, the Patriots landed Saints receiver Brandin Cooks (while also moving down from the third round to the Saints’ fourth-round slot). That’s a huge acquisition for the Patriots, Cooks gives Tom Brady his best deep threat since the days of Randy Moss.

Earlier Friday, the Patriots also took a chance on Kony Ealy, trading away a second-round pick to the Panthers. The Patriots got a third-round pick back, so acquiring a talented player in Ealy wasn’t even that costly for the Patriots. This is a typical Patriots trade where they acquire an underperforming, but talented player, hoping they can bring out the best in him. Remember, Ealy was the guy who sacked Peyton Manning three times in Super Bowl 50. He has talent, but he’s posted consecutive five-sack regular seasons, so he definitely needs to improve. Would it be shocking to anyone, though, if the Patriots turned him into a top-caliber pass rusher?

It’s just what the Patriots do.

Aaron Rodgers: At the end of January, Rodgers said that the Packers needed to re-sign Jared Cook. That probably isn’t going to happen, but Rodgers likely won’t mind. That’s because on Friday, the Packers signed Martellus Bennett

Bennett is one the best tight ends in all of football. Since 2012, he has the sixth-most receiving yards among all tight ends. He’s a good blocker. In 2016, he was Pro Football Focus’ fifth-highest graded tight end. 

The bottom line is that the Aaron Rodgers just got his best tight end ever. And Bennett is going from Tom Brady to Aaron Rodgers. Everyone in Green Bay wins.

Julius Peppers: At the end of his career, Peppers gets to return to the city where it all started. After successful stints in Chicago and Green Bay, Peppers is a Panther again.

Peppers, 37, needs 7.5 sacks to pass Chris Doleman for the fourth-most sacks in NFL history.

The Cowboys: They didn’t do anything splashy Friday, but they made a nice few moves to address their depth. 

They reportedly re-signed Terrance Williams to a four-year deal. He’s appeared in every game since he entered the league in 2013 and he’s averaged roughly 44 catches, 698 yards and five touchdowns per season.

The Cowboys also reportedly signed Stephen Paea to bolster the interior of their defensive line.

Paea hasn’t done much since his six-sack season with the Bears in 2014, but he brings some solid upside to Dallas. 

Meanwhile, the Cowboys also reportedly added a cornerback to the mix.

Again, none of these players are household names, but that’s OK. A team like the Cowboys, who went 13-3 last year, doesn’t need to make any splashy signings. They just need to bolster their roster and fix some of their weaknesses. That’s what they did Friday. 

Offensive tackles: The big men continue to cash in. On Thursday, it was Matt Kalil who got a $55.5 million contract. On Friday, the Vikings reportedly signed Riley Reiff to a five-year deal worth $58.75 million.

They also gave Mike Remmers $30 million!

When I grow up, I want to be an offensive lineman.

The Colts’ pass rush: It’s pretty rare when we praise the Colts outside of Andrew Luck, but they actually did something good Friday. By reportedly signing ex-Patriots defensive lineman Jabaal Sheard, the Colts addressed an area that needed fixing: their pass rush, which notched only 33 sacks last season. Sheard has 13 sacks in the past two seasons. 

Losers

Top-end receivers: Like Alshon Jeffery, Terrelle Pryor didn’t get the long-term lucrative contract he wanted in free agency. Like Jeffery, Pryor was forced to sign a one-year contract, which means he’ll enter his second straight contract year.

Unlike Jeffery, Pryor landed with the most dysfunctional organization in football. The most he can make in Washington? $8 million after incentives.

Speaking of Jeffery, his $14 million deal from Thursday actually includes $4.5 million in incentives. That’s right, one year after earning the franchise tag for the Bears, the talented receiver isn’t even guaranteed to make eight figures on the next contract he signed. What this year’s market is for offensive linemen, it’s the opposite for receivers.

RG3: For a second straight offseason, Robert Griffin III is looking for another team. The Browns reportedly cut him Friday. His brief stay in Cleveland did not go well. It began with an injury in his first game and ended with a 1-4 record, two touchdowns and three picks, and a 72.5 passer rating. 

Next up for RG3: Maybe the Jets. Somehow, RG3 could actually go from the Browns to an even worse team.

Tony Romo: Romo’s future is still in limbo. The good news: The long wait isn’t forcing him to consider a career in TV:

Even after trading away Brock Osweiler, the Texans reportedly aren’t willing to trade for Romo. According to the Dallas Morning News’ David Moore, Romo is in for a long wait:

Barring unforeseen movement on the trade front, sources said nothing is expected to happen with the veteran quarterback this weekend. One source went as far as to say “it’s optimistic’’ to suggest Romo’s status with the Cowboys will be determined in the next week

At least he’ll have time to film some more videos.

Winner and Loser

This is a special category and it’s entirely reserved for Jimmy Garoppolo. Allow me to explain.

The day began with Garoppolo firmly positioned in the “losers” portion of this column. After all, his Instagram was hacked and the Patriots reportedly wanted the Browns’ No. 1 pick in exchange for him. If that was the actual price tag the Patriots attached to Garoppolo, they were unlikely to move him this offseason, which means Garoppolo appeared to be destined to spend the 2017 season on the sidelines.

And then the trades happened. First, the Patriots sent a second-round pick to the Panthers for Kony Ealy and a third-round pick. Then they traded for Brandin Cooks, giving up a first and third rounder (they did get a fourth-rounder back). Remember: They’re also missing a fourth-round pick due to Deflategate.

The point being, the Patriots are suddenly in need of draft ammunition. Luckily, they still happen to have a highly desirable quarterback sitting on the bench behind Brady. Those two trades might force Bill Belichick to re-think his stance on Garoppolo. 

Before the trade, La Canfora wrote this:

DePodesta and Belichick think very much alike, both are rooting heavily in an economist approach to pro sports, and the Browns and Patriots have already done plenty of business together in recent years. Neither team would have to do a thing until just before the draft and a trade could still come together. No one is better than Belichick at playing hardball and then ultimately squeezing for more than he could have hoped for (he would parlay some of these picks into a trade for Saints receiver Brandin Cooks, for instance, who he really likes and still have plenty left over to move up and down the draft board the next few years).

The same thinking applies, just in a different order. The Patriots got Cooks, now they need draft picks.

CBS Sports Writer

Sean Wagner-McGough joined CBS Sports in 2015 after graduating from UC Berkeley. A native of Seattle, Sean now resides in the Bay Area. He spends his spare time defending Jay Cutler on Twitter. Full Bio

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