NFL free agency in 2018 did not need to officially start in order for the biggest moves to unofficially happen.
So which teams have made great signings and trades so far? Which players made out like bandits with their contracts? Although everybody is trying be a “winner,” history proves an open market is bound to create some “losers,” too.
NFL FREE AGENCY:
Rumors, reported deals, updates
Here’s a running breakdown of the best and worst moves in 2018 NFL free agency.
Winners: Kirk Cousins and Vikings
Minnesota splurged on a three-year deal with big guaranteed money (a reported $84 million) to make sure it got Cousins, and the QB’s other suitors didn’t.
It works out well for both player and team, as the Vikings thought about Cousins entering his age-30 season knowing they’re in the right window to win a Super Bowl with him. He’s a perfect fit in the West Coast offense, inheriting ideal skill position weapons in Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Kyle Rudolph and Dalvin Cook.
Cousins made top-market money up front and landed with a contender that will help him push his career to a higher (see: winning) level of success. The NFC runners-up from 2017 are the new NFC favorites for 2018.
The Jets, once reportedly all in on Cousins, had to stumble around for Plan B, starting with a one-year flyer on former Viking Teddy Bridgewater. The question is, would the Jets be any worse off in 2018 by just rolling with either Josh Allen, Josh Rosen or Baker Mayfield and not forcing a stopgap signing like Josh McCown? In comparison, the Broncos appear to have made a Plan-A signing with their Cousins consolation, Case Keenum.
Early at other positions, cornerback Trumaine Johnson and running back Isaiah Crowell were meh signings. Inside linebacker Avery Williamson was a good get, but he essentially is replacing free agent Demario Davis. GM Mike Maccagnan is saving his best for the draft.
With Allen Robinson, the Bears got the complete, young No. 1 wideout they needed for Mitchell Trubisky. With Trey Burton, they got an up-and-coming pass-catching tight end from a similar Eagles offense. With Taylor Gabriel, they got a versatile cog they will use in a variety of ways. New coach Matt Nagy and GM Ryan Pace are copycatting what the Eagles’ Doug Pederson and Howie Roseman did for their QB taken No. 2 overall: pouring on the help.
On the side at wide receiver, Chicago also brought back Cameron Meredith as a restricted free agent and avoided the temptation of Jarvis Landry while also making sure Jordan Howard sticks as the stud in the backfield. Using the transition tag on rising corner Kyle Fuller and re-signing Prince Amukamara, too, is also bound to pay off, as the Bears kept their defense intact for Vic Fangio. Don’t expect Pace to be finished, but he got off the blocks well for Nagy.
NFL FREE AGENCY:
Tracking all signings, trades, cuts
Rarely does a playoff team flip a switch so hard, but Kansas City did, and it did so rather successfully. It started with trading Alex Smith and anointing Patrick Mahomes as the new starting QB. Gone are Marcus Peters, Derrick Johnson and Albert Wilson. Arriving are Kendall Fuller, Anthony Hitchens and Sammy Watkins.
Fuller can end up being better than Peters all-around, and he will be much less of a headache for coach Andy Reid. Hitchens can make a ton of plays like Johnson did for many years, and at 25, he’s a decade younger. Wilson had flashes as a complementary weapon to Tyreek Hill, but Watkins is capable of winning a track meet with Hill while streaking downfield to catch passes from Mahomes’ cannon. Reid’s team needed a reboot, and the Chiefs 2.0 are looking good.
Loser: AJ McCarron
Remember when McCarron was going to be traded to the Browns, and then when he was for sure going to sign with the Browns? But there went Smith to the Redskins, Tyrod Taylor to the Browns, Cousins to the Vikings, Keenum to the Broncos and Bradford to the Cardinals.
The starting jobs have dried up, save for the Bills, who might end up bailing him out. McCarron fought to be an unrestricted free agent, but he can’t like the early results.
Former Panthers left guard Andrew Norwell wasn’t heard in any rumors regarding the Jags, but there he is, about to line up next to stud center Brandon Linder and further boost the blocking in front of Leonard Fournette for the league’s No. 1 rushing attack. The Jaguars don’t want to mess with the running game/physical identity that got them a quarter away from the Super Bowl. At the same time, they took a worthy flyer on a cheaper Robinson fill-in with former Colt Donte Moncrief.
The Colts have a ton of money under the salary cap, but they have been eerily quiet. With the Jaguars being winners in the division, at least the Texans (Aaron Colvin) and Titans (Malcolm Butler) signed impact cornerbacks. It didn’t hurt much that Jacksonville grabbed Moncrief, but it should have hurt to see running back target Dion Lewis also sign with Tennessee. There wasn’t much fortune in favor of Andrew Luck or the defense.
Norwell, an undrafted free agent who was great in Carolina, became the highest-paid guard in the league with his five-year, $66.5 million deal from Jacksonville that includes $30 million guaranteed. He reset the market for the position again after the Browns’ Kevin Zeitler did it last year.
Winners: Wide receivers
Robinson and Watkins got paid most, but former Seahawk Paul Richardson (five years, $40 million from the Redskins) and former Chief Albert Wilson (three years, $24 million from the Dolphins) can’t complain about averaging $8 million in annual salary coming off limited production. Heck, even former Patriot Danny Amendola (two years, $12 million from the Dolphins) got more than he’s worth. John Brown ($5 milion) and Ryan Grant (four years, $29 million) got paid well by the Ravens, too. The Eagles paid Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith last year. Copycat city.
Winner: Le’Veon Bell
C’mon, Le’Veon. With that running back market where Dion Lewis is getting $5 million a year, you should be thrilled you get a chance to earn $14.5 million fully guaranteed for only one season.
MOCK DRAFT 2018:
Raiders, Packers retool defenses
Winner: Richard Sherman
Sherman has been criticized about how he should have shopped himself and not settled for a low-ball deal as his own agent. But he landed in the same defensive scheme as that of the Seahawks, still got well compensated at $13 million per season coming off a ruptured Achilles in his age-30 season and gets to exact revenge on Seattle while playing for its rival down the coast. That’s a win.
Winners: 49ers and Rams
The old best rivalry in the NFC West is the new best rivalry in the NFC West. San Francisco got Sherman and offensive lineman Weston Richburg. There will be more calculated spending ahead, and besides, the Niners already made the big move of the offseason by signing and then extending Jimmy Garoppolo.
The Rams countered by tagging safety Lamarcus Joyner, trading for cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib and re-signing corner Nickell Robey-Coleman. Wade Phillips’ defense vs. Kyle Shanahan’s offense will be fun in 2018 as the teams battle for the division title and, maybe, much bigger things in the NFC.
Losers: Cardinals and Seahawks
The Cardinals became the latest team to overpay Sam Bradford, for one year at a reported $20 million. Of all the stopgaps they could have gotten for their post-Carson Palmer QB void, an older guy who can’t stay healthy is not a good short-term investment. They will take their lumps in the division in 2018, so saving money and thinking long term would have been the better route.
What else can one say about the Seahawks? Earl Thomas is the last man standing in the Legion of Boom, and the defensive line rotation is without Michael Bennett. So far, Russell Wilson has not gotten line or receiving help (bye, Richardson; bye, Jimmy Graham) as even more of a burden falls on him to carry the offense and the entire team out of mediocrity.
Winners: Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham
They’re not playing together again. Brees got his two-year deal to return to the Saints, while Graham leaves Wilson and the Seahawks …. to join Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. The tight end has had a blessed career as a young basketballer-turned-veteran-red-zone-receiving-stud. Graham by default should work out for Green Bay after the Martellus Bennett disaster.
Losers: Jordy Nelson
The venerable Packers wide receiver is the most notable, shocking cut so far, trumping the Dolphins’ decision to part ways with Ndamukong Suh. Rodgers moves on with recently extended Davante Adams and Graham as his go-to guys, but it’s sad to see Nelson leave.
Winners: Aaron Rodgers and Zack Martin
Rodgers should be looking at all these QB contracts, led by those of Garoppolo and Cousins, and knowing he’ll get his relative discount contract double-checked again by the Packers. Martin, the best guard in the league, becomes a free agent in 2019. After what Norwell got, Martin should already hear all that cha-chinging coming out of Jerry Jones’ cash register.