Free agency is here. The new NFL league year has begun, although it felt like a letdown after an insane 24 hours leading up to everything kicking off. The NFL finally got it "right" -- the league plugged the 48-hour tampering window on a Monday and Tuesday and the results were pretty wild. Monday was slow, but deals were getting hammered out by late Monday and into early Tuesday. Tuesday was absolutely bananas, with a flurry of huge signings.
By the time the actual start of the league year on Wednesday rolled around, we knew what was going to happen once it became legal to make the moves. But that also gave us a longer sense to sort of gather a bigger picture of who might have won and lost in early free agency.
Let's be clear here: winning free agency is a dangerous prospect. Getting better on paper by spending a much of money in March hardly ever guarantees success in February. Teams who win over the long haul win by drafting and developing and the biggest free-agent winners come during the second wave.
But there are some clear narratives here, so let's dive in and be knee jerks about them. Send your complaints to me on Twitter @WillBrinson. And if you want to take a deeper audio dive into the whole thing, subscribe to the Pick Six Podcast or listen to the Winners/Losers show with myself, Ryan Wilson and John Breech below.
The Mike Mularkey firing/Mike Vrabel hiring process really turned me off of the Titans, a team I was high on last year. But consider me back in love, or something. The addition of Dion Lewis in free agency gives Tennessee a really interesting group of players on offense. Lewis and Derrick Henry are perfect complements and can help minimize each other's touches, keeping them fresh for the stretch run. The development of Corey Davis and a healthy run game with a new offensive coordinator should do wonders for Marcus Mariota. The Titans also made some under-the-radar moves to boost the offensive line with the signing of Josh Kline and the defensive line with the signing of DaQuan Jones.
Losing Avery Williamson in free agency stings, but it's possible to imagine this defense being kind of good in 2018. Logan Ryan/Malcolm Butler/Adoree Jackson is a really nice trio of cornerbacks for the foreseeable future if new DC Dean Pees can coax the best out of them. People are going to focus on the return of the Texans stars and the development of the Jaguars, but I've got my eyes on the Titans in the AFC South right now.
The Bears are making a clear and concerted effort to follow the path of the 2017 Los Angeles Rams, having drafted a quarterback who struggled in his first season under the guidance of a conservative defensive coach and without any weapons around him. Jared Goff and the Rams broke out under Sean McVay in 2017 after an ugly 2016 with Jeff Fisher, and the Bears hope something similar happens with Trubisky and Matt Nagy after getting rid of John Fox.
To improve the chances of that happening, GM Ryan Pace is loading up the roster with weapons, making three big moves on the first day of free agency. The obvious one was adding Allen Robinson, a potential No. 1 wideout who recorded a 1,400-yard season at the age of 22 while leading the league in touchdown catches and having Blake Bortles throw him footballs. It was a very impressive achievement. It wasn't cheap -- three years, $42 million -- but that's the cost of doing business with a 24-year-old free-agent wide receiver.
Additionally, Pace snagged young tight end Trey Burton, a hero of the Super Bowl for the Eagles, although that four-year, $32 million deal carries plenty of risk in terms of the unknown. Burton has a lot of upside, though, and he's going to be paired (?) with Adam Shaheen at tight end, which is certainly an intriguing combo, even though the Burton signing might not say good things about Shaheen moving forward.
Pace topped the day off by adding Taylor Gabriel, according to Taylor Gabriel.
Taylor Gabriel expected to sign with the Chicago Bears on a 4 year deal. per source.— Andrew Hawkins (@Hawk) March 13, 2018
Taylor Gabriel is my source. #ThomaHawk
Gabriel is an excellent complement to those guys as a speedy slot guy who can take the top off defenses. Add those weapons with the running back duo of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen and no one can say Nagy and Trubisky don't have enough to work with.
According to Sportsline.com projections, the Bears triple their chances of making the playoffs by signing Robinson and Burton. Sure, that's up to only 3.5 percent from 1.1 percent, but that's a huge jump for a franchise that's supposed to be in the middle of a rebuild.
New Orleans Saints
On the latest (Day Two) Free Agency Frenzy recap edition of the Pick Six Podcast, Pete Prisco noted he had heard Drew Brees would legitimately consider going elsewhere if the money was right and the Saints weren't willing to up their offer to the future Hall of Fame quarterback. The Saints didn't and ultimately ended up winning a very dangerous game of chicken with Brees, who has become synonymous with the city of New Orleans and the Saints franchise.
The terms of the deal -- two years for $50 million -- is a total steal when you compare it to other contracts handed out in free agency on Tuesday, including that of Sam Bradford in Arizona ($20 million for one year) and Kirk Cousins ($84 million for three years). Brees is 39 years old, but he has plenty of gas left in the tank.
When you consider Brees left at least $10 million on the table, it's pretty remarkable the Saints were able to keep him. They've squeezed him with leverage in the past, and Brees had all the leverage this time around. His agent Tom Condon is unafraid to extract maximum value, but Brees and Saints GM Mickey Loomis reportedly met away from Condon and hammered something out.
It's clear Brees values trying to win a second Super Bowl in New Orleans over $10 million extra, and he said as much. He's 39, he's felling wistful, he wants to build on his legacy in New Orleans and he doesn't want to pick up his family and move to start over in some new city with some new team and some new coach. New Orleans is home and it will remain that way.
It's hard to believe Eli was benched only a few months ago for Geno Smith, with the Giants about to smash a giant, red reset button and blow everything up. As of right now, Manning is the starter for the Giants and it's becoming patently obvious Dave Gettleman is preparing to push in on 2018 as a possible winning season for New York. The Giants pushed hard to get Andrew Norwell but came up short when the Jaguars went up top on a contract, so the Giants "settled" by making Nate Solder one of the highest-paid offensive linemen in the NFL. It's pricey, but you can make the case overpaying to secure Eli's blindside was a justifiable move. The offensive line was a major problem last year, and Ereck Flowers should be much better at right tackle. If you think Gettleman won't take Quenton Nelson or Saquon Barkley No. 2 overall you're not thinking right. The Giants also added Jonathan Stewart and overpaid him, but he's at least steady and knows the system. Gettleman also acquired Patrick Omameh to shore up the offensive line. And he traded for Alec Ogletree, who gives the Giants an impact defender. This is not a team trying to build slowly for the future.
Watkins, despite only producing a single 1,000-yard receiving season in four years after being drafted with the No. 4 overall pick, managed to secure a FULL $30 million guaranteed with a $21 million signing bonus. He's getting an absurd $34 million the first two years.
In case you thought Sammy Watkins' 3-year, $48 million deal with the #Chiefs might not be real money ... he got a $21M signing bonus and is fully guaranteed $30M. Set to make $34M over the first two years. Wow.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) March 14, 2018
Again, Watson has a single 1,000-yard season. He has an elite skillset, but as the old saying goes, availability is the best ability. Watkins has not always been available and the Chiefs will need him out there.
Maybe the concept here is Watkins serves as another deep threat along with Tyreek Hill, while helping to let Hill shift into more of a WR2 role. He could also be utilized in the screen game, picking up some of those plays that Albert Wilson, who signed with Miami to replace Jarvis Landry, was used on. Watkins would also help take pressure off of Travis Kelce if he maxes out his potential.
Andy Reid has not been great at wideout contracts with Kansas City: Dwayne Bowe and Jeremy Maclin did not pan out for the Chiefs. There is a lot of risk in Watkins' contract, but he still has a ton of upside.
New England Patriots
Don't get me wrong: the Patriots will probably be fine. They have Tom Brady, they have Bill Belichick, they're probably going to win 12 games again next year, take down the AFC East and host the AFC Championship Game. Time is a flat circle. But if you're a Patriots fan coming off a brutal loss to the Eagles in Super Bowl LII, it is perfectly reasonable to feel concerned about the situation that is unfolding in free agency.
Gone is Malcolm Butler, who left for the Titans in free agency on a huge deal. (Dislike him all you want for his poor play the last year, but he was a very good cornerback for a very long stretch in New England and the Patriots need secondary help. See: Super Bowl LII.) Joining him is Dion Lewis, who signed a four-year, $20 million deal with Tennessee. Danny Amendola, who bailed the Patriots out many times in the playoffs over the last few years, left for a division rival, signing a $12 million deal with the Dolphins, finally making up for all those pay cuts the Pats had him take since coming from the Rams.
The biggest blow is the loss of Solder, who leaves for the Giants and opens up a hole on Tom Brady's blindside. If you're Brady, you have to look around at a brutal ending to a season when you won the MVP at the age of 40 and next thing you know you've lost your best running back, your best postseason clutch receiver, your starting left tackle and the guy who sealed one of your Super Bowl victories with a classic interception.
Belichick and Co. will be fine, but it's been a tough start to free agency for them in terms of their players being picked off.
It would make sense the Ravens want to make a push this season to try and secure one more Super Bowl with Ozzie Newsome at GM, before the legendary personnel man steps down. And the Ravens need wide receiver help, so they should be active in free agency trying to land pass catchers for Joe Flacco when But it doesn't necessarily make sense to go out and overpay for mid-level wideouts. That's exactly what the Ravens did, though, giving former Redskins receiver Ryan Grant a four-year deal worth $29 million with a reported $14.5 million guaranteed. Grant doesn't have 1,000 receiving yards ... in his career.
The Ravens doubled down and signed former Cardinals draft pick John Brown, although it was just to a one-year deal worth a reported $5 million plus incentives. Brown hasn't gone over 517 yards since 2015.
I like both these guys, a pretty large amount actually. But the price Baltimore's paying here is steep, even if they're desperate for weapons. It could say something pretty strong about how these teams view the 2018 NFL Draft class.
These FA WR contracts tell you how this WR draft class is rated.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) March 14, 2018
Oddly the Panthers might have made my favorite under-the-radar free agent signing this offseason, by picking up Breshaud Breeland, a quality player who looks like an ever better signing when you dig into the contract. But this has been a rough start to the offseason for the Panthers, and I believe it's because of the transition the team is going through. Marty Hurney was just named full-time GM, and it's not like he can just go out and make it rain in free agency while the team is up for sale. Bidding on big-ticket free agents and locking up cash isn't a plus to a team on the block. Part of the cash issue involved prior investments in positions the Panthers had to see leave. Andrew Norwell was too rich for Carolina's blood after paying Trai Turner. And Star Lotulelei was cost prohibitive after paying Kawaan Short. It's perfectly fine to let those guys leave and not double down on the positions, but this is a big year for Carolina with Thomas Davis and Ryan Kalil preparing to play their final season and Carolina needs maximum reinforcements. Getting Julius Peppers back is a big plus, but it's a one-year deal there too, obviously. The offensive line should be a big concern with the struggles of the running game last year.
What are the Dolphins doing? Honestly, I don't get it. They cut Ndamukong Suh, which is fine except he's going to take up more than $22 million in dead cap space next year. That's ... insane. Speaking of big cap numbers, their second-biggest hit will be Robert Quinn, who they acquired in a trade with the Rams. If Quinn magically stays healthy and returns to his top-tier form it's a good move, but that feels like a pretty big gamble. They traded Jarvis Landry, which made sense because he was going to take up $16 million on the franchise tag, and extending a guy who averaged 8.8 yards per catch last year by paying him like a top-tier wideout would have been crazy. But then they went out and paid two slot receivers in Albert Wilson and Danny Amendola. They re-worked Ryan Tannehill's contract, which could now mean being stuck with him for two years. If the plan was to draft a quarterback in the first round this year, that could complicate things. Maybe I'm missing it and the Dolphins have a clear-cut plan about what they want to do, but it feels like more of the same annual free agency roster turn that keeps them in NFL purgatory.
The good news for McCarron is he eventually found a starting job when the Bills locked him up to a short deal on Wednesday, after free agency opened. The bad news is he's almost assuredly not going to start long in Buffalo: they are drafting a quarterback and they are probably trading up to draft one. At least Mike Glennon was surprised by the news in Chicago. The over/under for McCarron's starts is probably something like 6.5 -- if the Bills get out to a slow start under McCarron, assuming he wins the starting job, they'll turn to whatever rookie they end up drafting. It's better than sticking around to be Andy Dalton's backup, but this cannot be what McCarron could've imagined happening when he won his grievance against the Bengals and became an unrestricted free agent. The money, reportedly a two-year deal worth about $10 million with $6.5 more million available via playing time bonuses, was far below the expectation for McCarron's market.