Hello to all, and welcome to Week 2 of NFL free agency. Feels like it's been going on a lot longer, doesn't it? Anyway, there's been no shortage of news around the league as we draw closer to draft day. That's why I, Cody Benjamin, am privileged to take the baton from John Breech and serve as your trusty guide through the NFL on this fine Wednesday afternoon.
This is the Pick Six Newsletter. Now let's get to it. (And please, do yourself a favor and make sure you're signed up to receive this newsletter every day! You don't want to miss our daily offerings of everything you need to know around the NFL).
We've got rankings of the best and worst free agent moves, a look ahead to the draft, and much more:
- Today's show: AFC East lands some of 2021's top bargain free agents
With each day, the league-wide focus turns a little more from free agency to April's draft. But come September, when teams actually hit the field for the 2021 season, we'll be reminded which organizations really aced the offseason thanks to lower-profile veteran additions. Every year, bargain finds end up powering contenders. Which teams struck gold in that respect this spring? Jared Dubin joined Will Brinson on Wednesday's Pick Six NFL Podcast (listen and subscribe right here) to break it down.
The AFC East may have been home to this year's most surprising free agency splurge (see: Patriots), but Dubin and Brinson also highlighted the division as the hot spot for low-risk, high-reward moves. Kyle Van Noy back to New England? Jacob Hollister joining Dawson Knox in Buffalo, giving the Bills "basically two of the same guy" -- big, athletic red-zone weapons -- to improve Josh Allen's pass-catching corps? Miami's one-year, $10.5 million deal for wide receiver Will Fuller may have been the best of all, Dubin said, considering how much it could mean for second-year Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
"You gotta have guys that can make plays independent of being schemed into them," he said. "You're starting to get a much more respectable skill-position core. Having that guy that takes the top off the defense is really important."
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2. Best and worst free agent moves: Buccaneers score, Bears fumble
Plenty of teams did a lot more than bargain shopping in free agency, of course. But which ones struck gold -- and which ones swung and missed -- while doling out lucrative deals? We identified five of the best and worst moves of 2021 free agency on Wednesday, issuing some praiseworthy remarks for the Bucs and Browns, some harsh ones for the Jaguars, and a little bit of both for the Giants. Here's a sneak peek at our No. 1 best and worst signings of the early offseason:
This was an absolute steal by the Bucs. Barrett is 28 with 27.5 sacks in two years with Tampa Bay, and he might have approached $20M per year on the open market. Instead, Todd Bowles gets to keep his top pass rusher for a Super Bowl encore, and Barrett gets to stay in a familiar system that's shepherded his breakout.
This has nothing to do with the money and everything to do with the implications. Dalton's $10M salary basically makes him a really highly paid backup, but he's apparently already been told he'll start in 2021, which ... yikes. Is he an upgrade over Nick Foles? Maybe. But even Mitchell Trubisky would've offered more upside, for crying out loud. Unless Chicago pairs this with a surprise trade (Sam Darnold?) or early-draft QB addition, it'll likely cement the Bears in another year of fringe contention.
3. Insider notes: Urban Meyer already looks overwhelmed by NFL duties
If you paid attention to the big spenders in free agency, you might've noticed the Jacksonville Jaguars, who entered the offseason with more salary cap space than anyone. What you may have missed, however, is premier names signing with the rebuilding franchise. Because they didn't. CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora thinks that's just a symptom of a greater issue in Jacksonville, where new coach Urban Meyer recently went on record to criticize the free agency process:
(It's) great that you totally crushed it in college, recruiting and all, but as you see this is different ballpark and these players are old enough to have watched Chip Kelly and others crash and burn to know this gamble on you is far from a guarantee to produce real results ... If Urban Meyer, who had made it known for a few years how interested he was in trying this whole pro coaching thing, was truly this naïve and taken aback by how business is done in the NFL, then shame on him. Let's get real: As someone who himself has been involved in numerous multi-million dollar contracts, this is beyond belief.
He'll grow and adapt to this pro thing … or be back in the college game in a few years. He'll rise above; or he won't. Though mere weeks into Meyer's first full NFL offseason, it's fair to wonder how much this looks and sounds like movies we've seen and heard before, that didn't end the way the main character would have hoped.
4. Buccaneers lock up more Super Bowl starters with salary cap magic
The biggest free agent story of the offseason might center on all the players the reigning champions have retained rather than acquired. And that story only expanded on Wednesday, with Tampa Bay reportedly extending left tackle Donovan Smith on a new $31.8 million deal and then reportedly re-signing defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh on a one-year, $9 million deal. Where are the Bucs getting all this money? Great question. One thing we know is they've learned how to manage their cap incredibly well, at least in terms of keeping their 2020 Super Bowl roster intact. Here's a review of their most notable moves of the offseason prior to retaining Smith and Suh:
- Franchise tagged WR Chris Godwin
- Extended QB Tom Brady through 2022
- Re-signed OLB Shaquil Barrett through 2024
- Re-signed LB Lavonte David through 2022
- Re-signed TE Rob Gronkowski through 2021
- Re-signed K Ryan Succop through 2023
5. Draft order and team needs post-free agency: Jags, Jets still have holes
Even after the first few big waves of free agency, plenty of teams need more help. Josh Edwards decided to assess all 32 teams' top priorities ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft, as well as run through the entire first-round draft order and review each club's most notable offseason moves. Be sure to give the entire list a look-see, but here's a preview of the top three teams on the board:
1. Jaguars (1-15)
Team Needs: QB, S, OT, WR, TE
Notable free agent additions: CB Shaquill Griffin, S Rayshawn Jenkins, DT Roy Robertson-Harris, WR Marvin Jones
Notable free agent losses: WR Keelan Cole, WR Chris Conley, QB Mike Glennon, CB Rashaan Melvin
2. Jets (2-14)
Team Needs: EDGE, CB, iOL, RB, TE, LB
Notable free agent additions: EDGE Carl Lawson, WR Corey Davis, DT Sheldon Rankins, WR Keelan Cole
Notable free agent losses: WR Breshad Perriman, EDGE Jordan Jenkins, DT Henry Anderson, OG Pat Elflein
3. Dolphins (via Texans) (4-12)
Team Needs: OT, EDGE, LB, S, RB
Notable free agent additions: WR Will Fuller, QB Jacoby Brissett, DT Adam Butler, RB Malcolm Brown, C Matt Skura
Notable free agent losses: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, C Ted Karras, LB Kyle Van Noy, EDGE Kamu Grugier-Hill, DT Davon Godchaux
6. Mock draft: Dolphins take Justin Fields, Bengals add Ja'Marr Chase
If you're looking for a fun twist on mock draft season, you've come to the right place: In his latest projection for April's rookie showcase, Chris Trapasso offered predictions based on what he would do rather than what he thinks teams will do. The results? Well, you might want to sit down. Here are some of the most notable decisions in Trapasso's first-rounder:
- Dolphins select Ohio State QB Justin Fields at No. 3, effectively replacing Tua Tagovailoa
- Bengals select LSU WR Ja'Marr Chase at No. 5, adding a new No. 1 target for Joe Burrow
- Panthers trade up to No. 6 to take NDSU QB Trey Lance, who could presumably learn behind Teddy Bridgewater
- Cowboys take TCU S Trevon Moehrig at No. 10, reaching for a new top defensive back