NFL Free Agency: Teams should aggressively try to steal Brees from Saints
Plus how the Bills are preparing to strike in the draft, the status of the Cousins market and new-look Packers
The pervading concrete idea of Drew Brees simply taking less money and returning to New Orleans, an idea perpetuated by both the Saints and the quarterback himself in the media, continues to crack a little bit more as each hour of free agency open season wears on. Deadlines spur action, but the Saints lack of movement here is odd: unless they work out a deal, or some kind of bridge deal, with Brees between now and 4 p.m. ET on March 14, New Orleans will be stuck with a dead cap hit of $18 million regardless of where the quarterback signs next year.
Yes, even if Brees returns to New Orleans on a new deal that is negotiated after the start of the league year, New Orleans would still be on the hook for that mammoth cap hit. And if Brees goes elsewhere, well, it would be devastating to a team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations.
Which is exactly why NFC contenders -- or any teams in the NFL who need a quarterback -- should be trying to throw piles of money at Brees right now.
The Vikings and Cardinals stand out, because of their need at the position and their direct competition with the Saints. This isn't just about signing Brees: it's about taking the leverage the Saints already maximized against New Orleans by circumstance and putting them in a rough spot as it relates to their cap and quarterback.
There's no downside here. Literally the worst-case scenario would be signing Brees. Both the Cardinals and Vikings would love that, even if it meant busting up their cap a bit; Brees would pry open a huge two- or three-year window to win a Super Bowl on a team with talent at the skill positions and above-average defenses.
Not landing Brees has plenty of upside as well. It would give Brees leverage in negotiations against the Saints, forcing them to make a move quickly. Not only could they face the issue of having Brees on the roster with the dead cap space, they could face the risk of losing him and having to deal with the cap hit. That would be a brutal blow for a team with Super Bowl aspirations of its own.
Throw the Broncos and, to a certain extent, the Jets here too if you want. Brees is 39 years old, but he should be more coveted as a pure free agent than he really is. Tom Condon's been willing to maximize his clients' value of the years and Brees should be no different now.
The one issue that's plain as day for trying to lure Brees away from the Bayou: comfort. At his age, with his standing in the city of New Orleans, with his kids and wife locked into the familiarity of their surroundings, it would be weird to pick up and move. He would have a new coach, and a new facility and a new system, all when he's within striking distance of retirement.
It's precisely why the Saints aren't simply handing him $30 million a year. But they better be careful, because this is a dangerous game of chicken they're playing against the most important player on the roster, who happens to be represented by an agent with a history of maximizing his clients' value on the open market.
The Bills are preparing to strike
Credit the leadership in Buffalo for not selling the stroke of luck that was 2017 as a rule rather than an exception.
Because the Bills, despite making the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade and giving a football-starved city every excuse possible to fuel up on Fireball and jump through flaming tables, are blowing things up in pursuit of the NFL's Holy Grail: a franchise quarterback.
Thefor a surprising haul, the 65th pick in the draft set Buffalo up nicely in terms of picks in the first three rounds.
But Cordy Glenn to Cincinnati, leaves the Bills ready to pounce., which included Buffalo shipping tackle
Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott now own five picks in the first 65 overall selections, which total a whopping 2,955 points on the old trade value chart.
That's 45 points shy of the value for the first overall selection, which means the Bills should have zero difficulty finding a willing trade partner in the top five or 10 of the 2018 NFL Draft.
One that stands out immediately is Indianapolis, a franchise with a host of holes in its roster and the No. 3 overall pick. The Colts would likely be fine sitting where they are and taking either Bradley Chubb or Saquon Barkley. Those are game-changing players. But the Colts have more than just a need, and the Bills have a pile of picks to make a swap work.
The math here works nicely:
No. 3 overall (2,200 points)
No. 12 overall, No. 22 overall, No. 65 overall (2,245 points)
Indy could potentially drag more out of the Bills depending on what the Browns and Giants do at No. 1 and No. 2. Or maybe it's a simple "hey, we're not going down to 12 and missing out on a blue-chipper unless you give us a second-round pick too" conversation. Regardless, the Bills and Colts make sense as logical trade partners and the assets match up nicely.
Buffalo's chess game feels a lot like that of Howie Roseman's in 2015 when the Eagles acquired Carson Wentz. Philly dealt Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso to the Dolphins and swapped first round picks, moving up from No. 13 to No. 8.
Modern analytics say the difference in value for picks shouldn't be as high as the traditional Jimmy Johnson Trade Chart, but the reality of the draft day economy hasn't reflected that shift. If you want to make a legitimate play for the top five without giving up a future first round pick, you need to be in the middle round range. The Bills are there and they now, after patiently stockpiling picks for the last two years, have more than enough ammunition to bridge the gap.
Is the Kirk Cousins market softer than we think?
The former Redskins quarterback is going to get paid in free agency, and he's going to be paid handsomely. But it's possible the bidding war for Cousins services are less heated than we might have all originally imagined.
Chatter, and it's hard to believe John Elway is just going to sit back and not be a player in the franchise quarterback sweepstakes. But there's a very real belief, as CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora has reported for a while now, that the Vikings and Jets are the only true suitors for Cousins services.
Start with Cousins himself potentially revealing that information. The quarterbackMonday and in doing so, may have inadvertantly hinted about where he was leaning by including the tags "Vikings" and "Jets" on the post. Whoops.
Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reports he's hearing something similar, that Minnesota and New York are the only "serious" suitors. Mike Freeman of Bleacher/Report is hearing similar things, reporting more chatter about only having two teams involved in the talks.
Maybe, and Denver's hypothetical interest, are just that. Elway and Cards GM Steve Keim are veterans of negotiations and not the type of GMs to simply sit there and get played. If they believe there's no real interest from Cousins in coming to their respective locations, they'll quickly move on. The last thing either Arizona or Denver can do this offseason is play patsy so Cousins can drum up a couple extra million from the the Jets or Vikings. The quarterback situation in those two spots is too pressing.
Meet the new Packers
The new boss does not appear to be the same as the old boss, because if the rumors from Monday are any indication, new Packers GM Brian Gutekunst was not joking about being more aggressive than Ted Thompson in free agency. The Packers under Thompson were loathe to spend big in free agency, only rarely venturing into the expensive waters (Charles Woodson being the most notable move). Right or wrong, it drove Packers fans crazy.
The Graham thing is particularly interesting because of how sharp Aaron Rodgers has looked when he has a top-end tight end on his depth chart. It's been a while, and Martellus Bennett was supposed to be that guy last year, but it backfired badly. Graham is older and isn't the same guy who dominated in New Orleans during his prime, but he was a legitimate red-zone threat for Seattle and Russell Wilson last year.
Rodgers could be interested in teaming up as well.
Robinson and Watkins would make a ton of sense for Green Bay, although it's likely an either/or proposition. As Joel Corry pointed out on the Pick Six Podcast last week, both guys could end up taking short deals this offseason, betting on themselves at the age of 24 and hoping to end up back in free agency next offseason with a more robust resume.
There might not be a better spot than playing with Rodgers for improving your statistics. Robinson had a 1,400-yard season and led the league in touchdowns at the age of 22 playing with Blake Bortles. If he's healthy next year as Rodgers top target, the sky is the limit.
What does all of this mean for the incumbent receivers in Green Bay? Jordy Nelson could be an easy target for some kind of restructure; cutting Rodgers long-time friend and most trustworthy target doesn't feel like a move a new GM is making. Randall Cobb finding himself on the outside looking in would hardly be surprising.
Regardless, good on Gutekunst if he gets aggressive in getting Rodgers weapons. The Packers might have the most athletic and most talented quarterback in NFL history. Surrounding him with weapons just makes too much sense. It's OK if they weren't drafted by the franchise.
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