The first (official) day of the NFL free agency period was marked by a number of landscape-altering transactions, including what might be one of the most intriguing trades in league history. Let’s take a closer look at how things turned out for various teams across the league, for better or worse:
Life for the rich: Stock up
The New England Patriots entered the offseason with an almost unprecedented amount of cap room—approximately $60 million, thanks in large part to Tom Brady’s remarkably team-friendly contract—and boy, did they use it. The Patriots kicked things off by trading a fourth-round pick for Dwayne Allen, a touchdown machine and adequate blocker who should be a suitable fill-in for Martellus Bennett, who seems destined to take his talents elsewhere. On Thursday, New England reportedly inked a five-year, $65 million with free agent cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
This is a huge signing for two reasons: for one, it gives New England one of the NFL’s best cornerback tandems (the Patriots also slapped a first-round tender on Pro Bowl corner Malcolm Butler, who is a restricted free agent). On the other hand, it makes Butler expendable. If the Patriots hope to acquire Saints receiver Brandin Cooks, and they are rumored to be interested in such a move, Butler would likely be New Orleans’ price.
The Patriots also have plenty of capital left to re-sign defensive captain Donta Hightower. Oh, and as if that wasn’t enough, they could receive a high draft pick for backup quarterback Jimmy Garopollo, if they decide to trade him to Cleveland. A Super Bowl repeat looks incredibly likely.
Meanwhile, the New York Giants, New England’s longtime nemesis, retained defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and signed former Jet (and Dolphin, and Bronco, and Bear) Brandon Marshall to a two-year deal. Marshall is the only receiver in NFL history to register a 1,000-yard season with four different teams, and playing in a supremely talented offense won’t hurt his chances for doing it with a fifth.
Washington: Stock down
The Washington Redskins are the Sacramento Kings of the NFL. Not only did they lose two 1,000-yard receivers to free agency (which I can’t recall EVER happening), but their quarterback, whose ongoing contract is nothing short of a fiasco in and of itself, has reportedly asked to be traded. Let me put this in context: the Redskins have committed almost $50 million in fully-guaranteed money over the past two seasons to a dude who doesn’t even want to be on the roster. The way I see it, Washington has two options: trade Cousins immediately, accepting a far smaller return since they have virtually no leverage, or let him play out the season and lose him next offseason for nothing. Honestly, I don’t know which option is worse. Cleveland is just unlucky; Washington’s team management is farcical.
Cleveland Browns: Stock up and at an all-time high
Cleveland entered the offseason with over $100 million in cap room even after signing star linebacker Jamie Collins to a sizable multi-year deal in January. In a remarkable display of self-awareness, the Browns extended an offer to pending free agent Joel Bitonio, a talented interior lineman who spend most of last season on the injury report. The Browns then swooped in and signed Kevin Zeitler and J.C. Tretter. The Browns still probably won’t win very many games next season, but at least they will be able to protect whomever plays quarterback (they allowed a league-leading 66 sacks last season). For those of you counting, the Browns (the Browns!) just invested over $100 million in their offensive line.
The Browns also signed Kenny Britt to a four year deal, giving them a reliable veteran receiver who is a more polished product than Terrelle Pryor, who will probably receive a $200 million contract from Washington, because that is what Washington does.
Cleveland went and pulled off one of the most creative transactions in NFL history...
Brock Osweiler: Stock down
In a move that would make tanking NBA owners proud, the Browns traded a fourth-round pick to the Houston Texans for a second-round pick and Brock Osweiler with the caveat that Cleveland absorbs the remainder of Osweiler’s contract.
On the surface, this seems like the perfect trade for both sides—the Browns get another high draft pick and a young quarterback seeking a fresh start, while the Texans get some much-needed cap relief to chase Tony Romo.
Ha! Nope! It was a cap dump!
Despite the fact that Cleveland has not rostered a competent quarterback at any point in my lifetime, the Browns are set to either cut or trade Osweiler in the near future. Even if Cleveland does work out a trade, it will be for a low-round pick and require them to pay the majority of the $16 million in guaranteed money remaining on Osweiler’s deal.
In other words, Cleveland, a team that has utilized over 20 starting quarterbacks since 1999, took one look at Brock Osweiler and said, “nah, we’re better than this.” The Browns are going to pay Osweiler somewhere in the neighborhood of $16 million to NOT play for their team. Ouch.
Cincinnati: Stock down
The Bengals lost two of the 15 best offensive linemen in the NFL and signed pass interference machine Dre Kirkpatrick to a massive contract extension. There is a real possibility that Cleveland finishes ahead of Cincinnati in the division this season.
Baltimore: Stock up
The Ravens, as per usual, signed several veteran free agents to mid-tier deals, including Danny Woodhead and Tony Jefferson. Jefferson will partner will with Eric Weddle, the prize of the 2016 free agency class, at safety, while Woodhead should see plenty of work as Baltimore’s primary receiving back. Joe Flacco threw the football more than any quarterback in the NFL last season, and will very likely be lord of the checkdown in 2017. For you fantasy guys, Woodhead is going to be a PPR machine. Baltimore has also successfully signed star nose tackle Brandon Williams to a long-term deal.
The Ravens finished 8-8 last season, but could have qualified for the postseason had Antonio Brown not transformed into a superhuman on Christmas Day. They will be better in 2017.
Jacksonville: Stock up
The Jaguars were quite busy in free agency, offering massive deals to Calais Campbell ($15 million per) and A.J. Bouye ($13 million per). On paper, Jacksonville’s defense should be awesome. In practice, I guess we’ll see. For now, though, you have to appreciate the ambition.
Odell Beckham Jr. and Mike Evans: Stock up
A 30-year-old Desean Jackson received a three-year, $33.5 million deal while Alshon Jeffery, whose last good season occurred in 2014, signed a one-year deal for $14 million. Beckham Jr. and Evans, the latter of whom will likely have to ask Jackson, his new teammate, for Uber fare after games, are about to strike it rich. Odell will be able to afford his own boat!
Pittsburgh Steelers: ???
Aside from some minor transactions (signed David Johnson and Landry Jones (yay!); allowed Markus Wheaton to sign elsewhere), the Steelers weren’t particularly busy on Thursday. So, while Pittsburgh didn’t get tangibly better or worse, many of the teams around them did. Cleveland is unlikely to make a run at the division this season, but Baltimore, as I mentioned, is very much a threat to win the AFC North. New England’s roster is better than it was one week ago and will likely only get better, and either Houston or Denver could automatically become the second-best team in the AFC if they land Romo.
For now, Pittsburgh’s stock remains neutral, but that could change.