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2017 Free Agency Crash Course
By Thomas Louis Posted in NFL on March 23, 2017 0 Comments
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Since 1992 implemented the idea of the unrestricted free agent, the NFL offseason has turned into an insane game of 52 Card Pick-Up around the time most other people are distracted with March Madness brackets (I’ve got Kentucky this year). 2017 has been no exception: stunning trades, huge players up for grabs, and big, big signings have lit up the league, and seem to be shifting the tide for the upcoming 2017-2018 season. Today, we’ll be discussing the need-to-know moves of the first week of free agency and contemplating what they could mean for the teams involved. 

THE MULTI-YEAR DEALS

WR Brandon Marshall to the New York Giants

The Deal: 2yrs/12 million

The Player: Brandon Marshall moves teams a lot, but it’s not out of a lack of productivity. He’s had more 1,000-yard seasons than not, he always finds himself over 10 yds/catch, and he’s a guaranteed touchdown threat if you get the ball in his area. He may be a bit outspoken, but nobody can deny he’s gifted in the hands department. 

Analysis: It’s a bit of an expensive deal for such a short contract with a player who will be turning 33 this year. But Marshall is guaranteed to line up at WR2 opposite Odell Beckham Jr., and is a veteran presence that immediately fills (and upgrades) the hole Victor Cruz leaves behind. Factoring in Sterling Shepard, Eli Manning should have a field day—maybe even a career year—with his wealth of receivers.

QB Mike Glennon to the Chicago Bears

The Deal: 3yrs/18.5 million guaranteed

The Player: Mike Glennon is an alumni of the mediocre 2013 QB draft class. Drafted in the third round by Tampa Bay as the Bucs’ Plan B, Glennon wasn’t actually half-bad. He played 13 games in his rookie season, accumulating over 2,500 yards passing, 19 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. Glennon showed flashes of starter-dom, but was once again brought back down to benchwarmer after the Bucs managed to secure the “steal” of the 2014 free agency, Josh McCown. After McCown went down, Glennon played five games, scoring 10 touchdowns to six interceptions, throwing for over 1,000 yards, and even beating the Pittsburgh Steelers on route to one of the Buccaneers two wins. 

Projection: The Bears were looking to move on from the Jay Cutler era, and are clearly looking for somebody who has at least seen some success and isn’t knocking on retirement’s door. In that regard, Glennon is a perfectly respectable signing. He hasn’t suffered the terrible flame-out that his fellow 2013 quarterbacks had. He’s got a decent deep ball, a decent completion percentage, and has had time to marinate under a variety of coordinators. It’s the best possible free agent quarterback move the Bears could have made, but they’re still going to have some offensive issues to address, particularly in their receiving game. Glennon might be a solid signing, but he’ll need people to throw the ball to, as well as a definitive answer in the run game. The rebuild isn’t over yet, Chicago. 

WR Kenny Britt to the Cleveland Browns

The Deal: 4yrs/32.5 Million

The Player: Britt has been in the league for 8 years and has seemed to never slow down. His first five years with the Titans, Britt had hauled in over 2,500 receiving yards on top of scoring 19 touchdowns. His main issue was his health, with Britt being unable to play every game through a season. His final year in Tennessee led to a paltry 96 receiving yards and a terrible 31.4% completion rating. He would then move on to the Rams, where he’s been for the last three years. As a Ram, he would significantly improve his game, playing all but one game during this time and bringing in nearly as many yards as he did in Tennessee. Britt is coming to Cleveland fresh off his first-ever 1,000 yard season. 

Analysis: Britt will shoot straight to the top of the wide receiver depth chart in Cleveland and is sure to be a huge target for whomever ends up taking the starting job at quarterback. While Britt hasn’t been a massive gamechanger in his career, he seems to be finally hitting his peak as he enters his ninth season while also landing on a Browns team that will be bringing in a horde of draft picks. Britt will certainly have a hard time hanging with the AFC North juggernauts of Antonio Brown and A.J. Green, but he does give Cleveland a very sorely needed boost at a very shallow position. 

WR DeSean Jackson to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Deal: 3yrs/20 mil guaranteed 

The Player: DeSean Jackson is a game-changing wide receiver. His time in the NFC East has been nothing short of extraordinary. Over 9 seasons, Jackson has brought in close to 9,000 yards, 46 touchdowns, has never played for any less than 10 games in a season, and shows absolutely no sign of slowing down. He’s adapted to many different quarterbacks, coaches, and coordinators and looks to make a splash in Tampa.

Analysis: Tampa Bay throws themselves immediately into the playoff conversation now that they’ll have a terrifying one-two punch at receiver. Jameis Winston has improved tremendously, leading Tampa Bay to a winning record and coming so very close to tasting playoff glory. Their offense was on the verge of exploding and Jackson is the fire lighting the gunpowder. They will have to compete with the defending NFC Champions, but given the fickleness and intensity of the NFC South, a division title isn’t out of the question for Tampa Bay. 

CB Stephon Gilmore to the New England Patriots

The Deal: 5yrs/40 Mil Guaranteed

The Player: As if the #1 defense needed to get any stronger, New England armored their secondary with arguably Buffalo’s best player. Gilmore has caught 14 interceptions over five years and nearly 200 tackles. He’s coming off a monster year in which he snagged five interceptions and terrorized opposing quarterbacks in shutting down passes. Gilmore is a talent who will be joining the defending champs at the height of his career.

Analysis: In a way, it’s almost unfair. As each team struggles to formulate a way to win the Super Bowl, Bill Belichick has the ultimate leverage of almost being able to guarantee Super Bowls for the players he signs. Gilmore takes the Patriots secondary from respectable to terrifying, as it’s not clear as of this writing what’s going to happen to Malcolm Butler. 

CB A.J. Bouye to the Jacksonville Jaguars

The Deal: 5yrs/26mil Guaranteed 

The Player: Bouye is a solid signing, but one with inherent risks. After three pretty quiet years (apart from that pick 6 in 2014), Bouye hasn’t been a starter until the 2016 season. Granted, it was a pretty great year for Bouye, as he was instrumental in the Texans’ somehow-stronger defense due to his speed and ability to cover the whole field. 

Analysis: It will be interesting to see how Bouye responds in Jacksonville. On paper, it’s a great signing. But the Jaguars have had a lot of “great on paper” signings, drafts, and hires. Not to say the Jags ruin players, but Bouye is at a crossroads of his career right now. He finally tasted consistent success and left behind the team that helped him start to get there. He will need to be worked with to not just maintain it, but to build on it. 

DE Jonathan Cyprien to the Tennessee Titans

The Deal: 4yrs/25 million

The Player: Cyprien had a career year in Jacksonville, as he became the highest-rated defensive end against the rush, an area where the Titans laughably struggled in 2016. Cyprien can bring anybody to the ground as a tackler and is a total work horse who has started in 60 out of a possible 64 games. He’s big, he’s tough, and he’s sturdy. 

Analysis: The Titans’ weak spot was the run last year and they went ahead and addressed that in a huge way. Tennessee gains a reliable defender without a history of injury. One of the better signings in terms of addressing need and money paid. 

DE Calais Campbell to the Jacksonville Jaguars

The Deal: 4yrs/30 million guaranteed

The Player: Campbell has been extraordinary for the Cardinals over the last 8 years. Over the course of his career; he has started 120 out of 138 games, racked in 56.5 sacks (including EIGHT last season), and is great against the run or pass. The Cardinals’ lack of cap space is the only reason why Campbell found himself out of the organization that he has helped build up over the last nine seasons. 

Analysis: As risky as the Bouye deal was, the Jaguars absolutely made the right move by getting Calais. Jacksonville’s defensive line has been severely lacking and any efforts to reinforce it has been met with untimely injury and lack of production. The Jags gave up the 25th most points to opposing offenses last season and having a healthy work horse on the line will certainly help in applying quarterback pressure and stopping the run. 

SS Tony Jefferson to the Baltimore Ravens

The Deal: 4ys/36 Million

The Player: Versatility is the name of the game for Jefferson. While he was able to focus on just playing strong safety in 2016, he held 4 different defensive positions through 2015 and had a career year. He’s a tackling safety and able to bring down whatever receiver he ends up defending. He’s decent at deflecting the pass and hawking a ball or two, but he excels at bringing a play to its conclusion. 

Analysis: It’s a bit of an odd signing considering the Ravens just picked up Eric Weddle last season. Furthermore, for all of Baltimore’s struggles, the secondary wasn’t what most would consider a huge area of need for them. Considering they still don’t have a guarantee at who will be replacing Steve Smith Sr. and the fact that their offensive line left a lot to be desired, safety was an odd choice. Sure, Jefferson is young and beefs up the position, but there’s still a lot more Baltimore has to address before they can be competitive in the AFC North. 

Jefferson and fellow Ravens acquisition Danny Woodhead meet the Baltimore press.     (alternate caption: Two hostages talk to their rescuers for the first time since liberation)
Jefferson and fellow Ravens acquisition Danny Woodhead meet the Baltimore press.     (alternate caption: Two hostages talk to their rescuers for the first time since liberation)

G Kevin Zeitler to the Cleveland Browns

The Deal: 5ys/31.5 Million Guaranteed 

The Player: Zeitler is a big loss for the Cincinnati Bengals. Highly regarded as one of the best tackles in the league, Zeitler’s game is a lot like running into a brick wall made of hands. He made 2nd Team All-Pro and is poised to continue warding off defenders as a Brown. 

Analysis: The Cleveland Browns have an absurd amount of money and have used it very wisely with this signing. Zeitler finally gives some extra support to Joe Thomas on the line, but they didn’t stop there. The Browns also signed former Packer J.C. Tretter onto their offensive line. It’s still unknown who the Browns have in mind for quarterback, but they have made drastic steps in ensuring that that player is well protected. 

LT Matt Kalil to the Carolina Panthers

The Deal: 5ys/25 Million Guaranteed 

The Player: Kalil posed as a decent-at-best tackle for the Vikings’ miserable offensive line in 2016. Was he the sole problem? No, but his pedigree is far from impressive when you look at how often Sam Bradford was pressured and how few rushing yards the Vikes were able to accumulate. 

Analysis: Carolina needed a better way to protect Cam Newton but folks like Zeitler and Whitworth were vanishing quickly to the lines of other squads. Kalil will have a lot to prove. While he is guaranteed a ridiculous amount of money with some crazier incentives, he does have a one-year trial period in his contract. That trial period, however, is the only intelligent thing about this signing. And even that’s a stretch. 

TE Martellus Bennett to the Green Bay Packers

The Deal: 3ys/21 Million

The Player: Bennett was brought on as Gronk insurance to New England last year, and boy, did they get a massive return on that policy. Bennett continued his legacy of red zone dominance by bringing in 7 touchdowns—the highest of his career—and was a key figure in the Patriots historic comeback over the Falcons in the Super Bowl. 

Analysis: The Packers have struggled at tight end ever since Jermichael Finley’s retirement in 2013. Jared Cook had his moments, but Bennett is a real-deal difference maker. The Packers offense is already borderline unfair, so adding a tall, burly, red-zone-touchdown-catching machine to this squad pushes them right into the unfair territory. 

RB Danny Woodhead to the Baltimore Ravens

The Deal: 3yrs/4.25 Million Guaranteed 

The Player: Woodhead is a pass-catching back with some shifty running mixed in. When Gordon’s rookie season didn’t go as planned, Woodhead filled the void pretty easily for San Diego. He went down with a torn ACL, thanks to whichever warlock cursed the Chargers in 2016, but is reportedly fully recovered and ready to join #ChargersEast.

Analysis: Running back has been an oft-ignored hole in Baltimore, so signing a veteran like Woodhead is a savvy move. At 32, with a history for injury, Woodhead is likely not a long-term solution but works as a stopgap. Joe Flacco should get plenty of use out of him should he continue his elusive, catching ways. 

OT Mike Remmers to the Minnesota Vikings

The Deal: 5yrs/30 Million

The Player: It’s a pretty great year to need help on the O-Line. Remmers was a rock for the Panthers, staying healthy and anchoring a conference-winning line in protecting an MVP. 2016 didn’t go as well for the Panthers, but that’s hardly Remmers’ fault. 

Analysis: Sam Bradford got pulverized in 2016, so Remmers is being brought to to help fix that problem. One tackle does not make an offensive line, but it’s a step in the right direction and a sigh of relief for the most pressured quarterback of the year. 

DE Lawrence Guy to the New England Patriots

The Deal: 4ys/20 Million

The Player: While not the flashiest defender in the world, Guy is gifted as an early down run-stopping player. It’s a very specific niche, but it’s a job that has kept Guy busy, as the NFL tends to call runs early on in their drives — especially when facing off against New England. He’s not on the field much, but when he is, he’s a heat-seeking missile for running backs.

Analysis: The Patriots, after winning the Super Bowl and mounting the #1 defense, have been just as aggressive in free agency as anybody. The team seems to be reloading for their 6th Super Bowl this century and Guy will be a small—but useful—element of the Patriots’ still-growing defense. 

RG T.J. Lang to the Detroit Lions

The Deal: 3yrs/19 Million Guaranteed 

The Player: A prominent member of the team who gave Aaron Rodgers eight years to throw, Lang was rated as the best right guard in the league, and was a hot commodity as he teased three teams for four days. Lang can square up against almost anyone and isn’t prone to allow sacks.

Analysis: It’s a good deal on a lot of levels. Lang gets to go home to his native Detroit and Matthew Stafford will get a sampling of what it could feel like to have all day to throw. Detroit is a pass-heavy offense and having a sturdy guard will only aid them in their eternal quest for playoff glory. 

RB Latavius Murray to the Minnesota Vikings

The Deal: 3yrs/15 Million

The Player: Murray gained some steam with the Raiders in his second year after a 1,000 yard rushing season, showing Oakland that they had a running back after all. He was a steady figure in 2016, though better for punching in a touchdown than for gaining huge yardage. Murray rushed for 12 touchdowns in Oakland while rushing for 700 yards. The drop in yardage could be explained by Jack Del Rio’s increased trust in Derek Carr, so no sign of a falling off for the young back. 

Analysis: Murray is replacing Peterson. There’s no way around it. Murray is young and powerful, but he is coming back from an injury. He’s had two solid years, and will hopefully be enough to ease some of the pressure for Sam Bradford, but there’s a very large risk in replacing an injury-prone running back with another running back healing from his own injury. 

K Steven Hauschka to the Buffalo Bills

The Deal: 3yrs/4 million Guaranteed 

The Player: Hauschka is a top-five kicker in the league that Seattle felt they could do without. Hauschka is clutch in field goals and almost automatic with extra points. 

Analysis: After sorely needing a solid kicking game and ditching Dan Carpenter, the Bills grab a new way they can start putting up points — a crucial element if they’re going to want to hang with the rising Dolphins and Belichick Empire. 

Hauschka practices his 1000-yard stare, which will be useful when he's asked to kick multiple 1000-yard field goals for a stagnant Bills offense.
Hauschka practices his 1000-yard stare, which will be useful when he’s asked to kick multiple 1000-yard field goals for a stagnant Bills offense.

TE Jared Cook to the Oakland Raiders

The Deal: 2yrs/12.2 Million

The Player: After being a severely underrated element of the Rams offense, due in part to his tendency to have brick hands, Cook made a career year for himself in Green Bay by showing what he can do as a blocker and with a consistent quarterback throwing to him. You may have seen his climactic game-sealing catch in the divisional round game against the Cowboys. 

Analysis: Tight end was about the only area on offense Oakland stood to improve upon, and Cook offers real talent with his height and newfound hands. Derek Carr gets a new toy to play with, which only bodes well for another Raiders playoff trip. 

ONE YEAR DEALS

WR Alshon Jeffery to the Philadelphia Eagles

The Deal: 14 Million

The Player: The best wide receiver available in free agency, Jeffery was the only good thing happening in Chicago for a long time. His incredible ability to track and reach the ball is outstanding, and his speed hasn’t let up in some time. 

Analysis: Philly needed wide receiver help in a major way, and got a really solid target for young Carson Wentz to throw to. 14 million is a heavy paycheck to pay for one year, especially when there’s no particular guarantee that you’ll be seeing enough success that warrants Jeffery wanting to come back. He’ll be a key figure to pay attention to in a growing bloodbath of the NFC East. 

CB Prince Amukamara to the Chicago Bears

The Deal: 7 Million

The Player: At one point, Amukamara was among the best corners in the league. But his one-year stint in Jacksonville was far from his successful history, as he failed to net a single interception and experienced a severe drop in tackles. This was against the likes of Brock Osweiler, Marcus Mariota, and Andrew Luck. Now he’ll be facing the deep ball huckers of Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, and Sam Bradford. 

Analysis: He’s still only 27, which means the right system could easily help him bounce back from his lousy 2016. Chicago needed a stronger secondary, and Prince gives them a little bit of reassurance, but he shouldn’t be viewed as a game changer until he starts changing the game. 

WR Terrelle Pryor to the Washington Redskins

The Deal: 8 Million

The Player: Pryor converted from a somewhat decent speed quarterback to a full-blown wide receiver in Cleveland and, to the surprise of probably everyone, found his true calling. Pryor became Cleveland’s premier WR with six different guys throwing him the ball. At one point, Pryor himself was asked to play quarterback for the oft-maligned position. 

Analysis: It’s a touch weird that Pryor turned down a huge offer from swimming-in-cash Cleveland, but in a way this signing means more for the player than it does for the team. Washington temporarily fills the hole that Jackson leaves behind, but more importantly, Pryor is able to solidify his status as a potential WR1 by showing what he can do under a proven quarterback. If he sees success under Cousins to the same or greater degree that he did in Cleveland, expect him to break banks in 2018. If he fails, hey, there’s always a return to the Dawg Pound.  

DE Julius Peppers to the Carolina Panthers

The Deal: 3.5 Million

The Player: Peppers is getting a little long in the tooth, hence the reduced number of snaps in Green Bay during his final year wearing the green and gold. But even with his smaller workload, Peppers made the most of it and moseyed himself into 5th place on the all-time sacks leader board. He’s still got some juice in him, and he’s good for a fair amount of sacks a season.

Analysis: Peppers is 37. He was drafted by (and raised in) Carolina. He’s going to give this franchise everything he’s got in what is likely going to be his final year, and retire as a Panther. That’s the way it should be. 

WR Kendall Wright to the Chicago Bears

The Deal: 4 Million

The Player: Wright came off hot in his second season with 97 receptions and over 1,000 yards. But that season seems to be more and more of a one-hit wonder as his career progresses. After being benched several times over by the Titans in 2016, Wright was an obvious hit to free agency for Tennessee. 

Analysis: Wright is definitely not a replacement for Alshon Jeffery, but with the small amount of receiver depth the Bears have, any little bit helps. Wright’s deal is very much so a prove-it deal, where he’ll see increased reps in the hopes of revitalizing the Bears and his career in the NFL. 

RB Eddie Lacy to the Seattle Seahawks

The Deal: 3 Million Guaranteed

The Player: The former Offensive Rookie of the Year has been met with some adversity over the last two years. Fluctuating weight and nagging ankle injuries have put the human bowling ball on the injured reserved list for two consecutive seasons. Pre-ankle injury, however, Lacy was good for 5 yards a carry, and could mow down or hurdle over enemy defenders. 

Analysis: Lacy has a lot in common with Marshawn Lynch; that was an easy comparison for Seattle. The trick will be keeping him healthy by limiting his carries. We can joke about whatever weight Lacy is all we want, but the real issue with Eddie lies in his ankles. Find a way to manage that, and Lacy could find a permanent home in the state of Washington. Further injuries will drive off future deals. 

CB Davon House to the Green Bay Packers

The Deal: 3.5 Million

The Player: The former Packer had a two-year detour in Jacksonville, where he turned out to be less than what they bargained for. After being benched for the better part of 2016, the Jags promptly released him. He did still garner interest from other teams due to his success in Green Bay, and an increasing suspicion that there’s something in the water in Jacksonville, but the two-year drop-off in productivity is still there. 

Analysis: The Packers’ weak spot was in their injury-plagued secondary, primarily at corner. Davon House isn’t an instant CB1, and certainly doesn’t solve the problem, but depth and talent at the position are going to be key moving forward and if nothing else, there’s a familiarity with the system in House. 

NT Dontari Poe to the Atlanta Falcons

The Deal: 8 Million

The Player: Poe has been in the limelight a lot recently thanks to him making a touchdown pass designed to add insult to injury against the Broncos. As a player, Poe can and will start every game, which alone is a skill that will garner tons of offers. Breaking down his numbers, he hasn’t been bringing in as many tackles lately. Since 2013, Poe has gradually fewer tackles per season, but still has a career total of 156 over five seasons.

Analysis: Poe seemed to visit every team in the league before sticking with an admittedly boring contract in Atlanta. Considering how much money he could have made, Poe is clearly looking to play for a contender, and Atlanta scores themselves a solid nose tackle who will no doubt be looking to earn a much bigger pay day next season. 

CB Morris Claiborne to the New York Jets

The Deal: 5 Million

The Player: Claiborne, after years of futility and frustration and injuries, finally started looking like a legitimate defensive threat in 2016. However, he did still end the season with an injury, costing the Cowboys a crucial piece of their defense come playoff time. 

Analysis: The Jets will be replacing aging Darrelle Revis with injury-prone corner Morris Claiborne. While he finally did start performing up to his 1st round pedigree in 2016, he did spend yet another season on the injured players list. Letting Claiborne walk was a smart choice by Dallas and shows a lack of foresight by the Jets, although perhaps a one-year prove-it deal was about as close to the right answer as there could be for him. 

RE-SIGNINGS

NT Brandon Williams: Baltimore Ravens

The Deal: 5yrs/27.5 Million Guaranteed 

The Player: Poe gets the media attention, but be not fooled; Williams was the best available nose tackle in this free agency. In a year where Baltimore seemed to watch their defense fall apart, Williams stayed strong as an anchor of the defense.

Analysis: With Suggs being injured and growing older, Orr retiring, and losing Dumervil, the Ravens were left with C.J. Mosley and a free agent Williams. This was a no-brainer signing, as the Ravens keep some defensive consistency and pay an insanely talented defender handsomely. 

OLB Nick Perry: Green Bay Packers

The Deal: 5yrs/18.5 Million Guaranteed 

The Player: Perry has surged in the Packer defense as Clay Matthews has gotten older. Perry briefly was injured in the 2016 season, but came back ahead of schedule by wearing a club on his left hand, and somehow got better. Perry went on to have a career year, leading the Packers in sacks and being a key figure in the Packers’ two playoffs wins. 

Analysis: Another no-brainer for Green Bay, as they retain a linebacker who will outlast Matthews and quite possibly outperform him. Green Bay may be seeing plenty of free agents flee the Pack, but keeping Perry (even with his huge number of incentives) is one of the smartest moves they’ve made this offseason. 

CB Dre Kirkpatrick: Cincinnati Bengals

The Deal: 5yrs/52 Million

The Player: Kirkpatrick has been the Bengals’ top corner, and for good reason. Kirkpatrick brought down 3 interceptions in Cincinnati’s lousy 2016 campaign and has defended 41 passes over 4 years. Any team would be lucky to have that kind of presence. 

Analysis: While the signing is good, the Bengals have lost so many good players to very large contracts across the board. Much like the Ravens’ signing of Williams, the Bengals simply had to bring in a key defender in order to have some sense of stability. Kirkpatrick will continue to be great, but if 2016 is any indicator, it will take more than a rising star corner. 

DT Nick Fairley: New Orleans Saints

The Deal: 4yrs/30 Million

The Player: The Saints suck on defense, but Nick Fairley doesn’t. Fairley picked up 6.5 sacks in 2016, which is a big deal in New Orleans. He wasn’t his usual fumble-forcing self, but it was his first year in a new system. He can only go up. 

Analysis: Saints needed defensive help last year, Fairley proved he could be the guy, they kept the guy. Now, if they can just build the rest of their defense…

WR Terrance Williams: Dallas Cowboys

The Deal: 4ys/17 Million

The Player: The longstanding WR2 of the Cowboys has his hits and also several misses. His propensity for drops is well-documented, but when he gets hot, he’s an incredible target to have available. 

Analysis: Keeping Williams for under 5 million a year is the best you can hope for with a player like him. It’s strange to have a veteran receiver who still struggles with bringing in contestable balls, but with how little cash Dallas had, sometimes you have just to retain somebody. 

OLB Lorenzo Alexander: Buffalo Bills

The Deal: 2yrs/4.1 Million Guaranteed

The Player: Alexander is 33 but don’t tell him that. Lorenzo landed 12.5 sacks, forced 3 fumbles, deflected 6 passes, and snagged an interception while he was at it. Add his 50 tackles into the mix and the Bills’ gamble on the aging lineback seems to have certainly paid off.

Analysis: If Alexander can keep warding off the ravages of time, he’ll continue to be a dominating force for the Bills defense that is about to get a major overhaul under their shiny new head coach Sean McDermott. If you thought Alexander was great under Rex Ryan, wait until a certified defensive mastermind gets his hands on him. 

ILB Dont’a Hightower: New England Patriots

The Deal: 4yrs/43.5 Million

The Player: The five-year veteran has over 251 tackles over the span of his career. That’s a crazy tackle-to-year ratio. His sack count wasn’t insanely high this year, but having Hightower on the field is worlds better than not having him. He crushes the run, and is one of the keynote inside linebackers of the NFL.

Analysis: After flirting with the Jets and Steelers, the Patriots were able to keep their already-beefy defense a little extra-beefy by keeping their high motor linebacker under a great contract. Belichick seems to only make good moves this offseason. 

DE Jason Pierre-Paul: New York Giants

The Deal: 4yrs/40 mil Guaranteed

The Player: After a very unfortunate firework incident, JPP has been in full-on prove-it mode for the Giants and he has certainly done that. After spending 2016 snagging seven sacks, deflecting passes, and returning a fumble for a touchdown, JPP was bound to snag a big paycheck from somewhere. 

Analysis: After some mild Twitter drama, the signing did in fact happen. JPP is a solid end who has regained his early career steam and will continue to be a defensive nightmare for opposing offenses. His health will remain an area of concern, as he did have to miss some time this year for non-firework related reasons. 

OLB Jamie Collins: Cleveland Browns

The Deal: 4ys/50 million

The Player: Collins’ unceremonious and sudden exit from New England caused him to land in Cleveland, where he started making an immediate impact. He’s easily become their top defensive player and can only get better with consistent work in their scheme.

Analysis: Cleveland had tons of money and a shiny new great player on their team. This re-signing was so obvious, Cleveland handled it before free agency officially started. 

TRADES

Cleveland Browns Receive QB Brock Osweiler and 2nd Round Pick
Texans Receive 4th Round Pick

Analysis: This was bananas brilliant on Cleveland and Houston’s part. Cleveland took the check for the remainder of Osweiler’s guaranteed money while also snagging a high pick from the Texans. Osweiler has no contract anymore, so Cleveland can do what they want with him. Play him, trade him, release him: the sky’s the limit for a team that’s swimming in money and picks. Houston relieves some sorely-needed cap space and may get an neat little blocker out of the deal in the future. Great stuff. 

New England Patriots Receive WR Brandin Cooks and 4th Round Pick
New Orleans Saints Receive 1st and 3rd Round Picks

Analysis: New England keeps loading and just gave Tom Brady a shiny new WR1. The Patriots offense was already making mincemeat of opposing defenses, but with Cooks Brady is finally able to get that consistent deep ball he’s always wanted. New Orleans now has TWO first round picks this year, which Sean Payton has hinted at using for boosting the Saints defense. Solid reasoning, but now the Saints are going to need to rely more heavily on Willie Sneed and Drew Brees’ magic on offense. 

New England Patriots Receive DE Kony Ealy and 3rd Round Pick
Carolina Panthers Receive 2nd Round Pick

Analysis: You know when you’re playing Madden in Connected Franchise Mode, and you’ve just been accumulating picks and cap space for what feels like forever, and you’ve won the Super Bowl enough times to the point where it kind of feels boring, but now you’re just addicted to the rush of success? I think Bill Belichick lives in that reality. Ealy is a dynamic pass rusher who gave the Panthers a defensive edge, but now they’ll be receiving a low second-round pick while New England, once again, adds to their #1 defense. New England wins this trade easily. 

STILL ON THE TABLE

QB Tony Romo

The Player: Tony Romo is very good when he’s healthy. He doesn’t have a playoff pedigree and has been stuck on some mediocre teams in his career, but recently he’s been hailed as one of the better quarterbacks in the league following an impressive 12-4 season in 2014 and watching how the Cowboys unravelled without him in 2015. Still, the rise of Dak and Romo’s penchant for major injuries have led the Cowboys to let their star quarterback go out to pasture.

Analysis: …or have they? Romo, who was supposed to be released by Dallas a week ago, is still currently in potential trade purgatory. Jerry Jones has dropped nearly every possible hint of a story around Romo’s name, but we’re nowhere closer to knowing if he’ll be released or traded. Romo could bring an immediate boost to a quarterback-needy team, should he overcome the hurdles of his age and injury history.

Potential Suitors: Denver Broncos, Houston Texans

RB Adrian Peterson

The Player: Peterson is the pinnacle running back of an era. At his best, he gobbles up yards and punishes defenses for missing him. However, it’s worth noting that due to suspension and injuries, Peterson has only played two games in the last two years, and he left that second one due to injury. The jury is still out on what his productiveness could feasibly be on a new team, but he’s another high-ceiling/low-floor aging legend. 

Analysis: Should Peterson get behind the right OL, he’ll be a force to be reckoned with. Teams looking at him will (of course) be signing him as their new RB1 and somebody who will be taking most of the team’s carries. This could be good and bad. Peterson is a star back at his healthiest, and could reinvigorate a run game. But he’s never had to really work in a 1-2 punch type of backfield before, which is the direction many teams in the league have been starting to adopt. A solid RB2 will be needed to back up AP, at the very least.

Potential Suitors: None confirmed. Rumors have potentially tied him to the Oakland Raiders. 

QB Jay Cutler

The Player: Cutler is a divisive figure in the NFL, so let’s just look at him from a purely statistical basis: since joining the Bears in 2009, Cutler has only played a full 16 games one time. Cutler has a tendency to miss at least one game due to injury or a temporary benching. As a starter in Chicago, he has a 51-51-0 record, and has thrown for 154 touchdowns to 109 interceptions for 23,443 yards. While those numbers initially do not sound too shabby, keep in mind that this has been done over the course of 11 years. This means Cutler throws, on average, 14 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, and just a touch over 2,000 yards a year. This doesn’t exactly put him in the upper echelon of quarterback play. Now, in fairness, 2016 was a season he spent off the bench all year due to a season-ending injury, so this past year could be an outlier affecting the numbers, but also remember the last two years Cutler has either been benched or too injured to play. 

Analysis: Does Cutler offer a higher ceiling than some? Sure. But he is not a franchise answer for any team looking to make a legitimate Super Bowl run. I looked through his time in Chicago to determine what season could be considered his “best” and I think it’s smartest to look at Chicago’s playoff run in 2010. A slightly above-average season for Jay, but he also had Matt Forte to relieve him and a defense to back him up. Jay is a pretty decent piece, but he cannot carry a team. 

Potential Suitors: New York Jets

Trust me, you'd look like this if you hadn't made the playoffs since Snapchat hit the market. You may argue,
Trust me, you’d look like this if you hadn’t made the playoffs since Snapchat hit the market. You may argue, “I’d be smiling if I was making money like Cutler!” Well, you wouldn’t be smiling if you were getting sacked like Cutler. 

RB Jamaal Charles

The Player: Charles has a tough hurdle to get over. As a back, he was absolutely dominant for the Kansas City Chiefs and could gain yards like nobody’s business. But in the last two seasons, Charles has suffered two different knee injuries that wound up ending his season. He’d still be a Chief were it not for the surge of Tyreek Hill. Charles could benefit from a solid line to help him out and better conditioning, but he is turning 30. There’s a worry he’s past his prime. 

Analysis: Like Peterson, anybody signing a terrific, injury-prone, aging halfback better have a solid backup plan. Charles is likely going to be looking for a decent sized one-year contract at the least, which may dissuade teams from pursuing him. Charles offers no guarantee of stability, but the possibility of a stronger run game. 

Potential Suitors: Seattle Seahawks, Kansas City Chiefs

QB Colin Kaepernick

The Player: It’s been a tough three years for Kaepernick. Three years ago, he finally tasted the bitter pill of not making it to the playoffs, and also lost the head coach who started him in the first place. Year two, he suffered a major regression and was eventually replaced with Blaine Gabbert. Year three, he got his starting job back and led the 49ers to a 1-10 record during his time as starter. But let’s also look at his 2016 season. Kaepernick threw 16 touchdowns against just 4 interceptions for over 2,000 yards in 11 games despite having one of the most incompetent offenses in the league. In addition, he got back to his running ways, with over 400 yards rushing and two more touchdowns with his legs. Kaepernick is far from washed up; he had an above-average year on a terrible team. The lack of consistency and talent that is an a clear result of the Jim Harbaugh firing is what’s casting a shadow over Kaepernick. 

Analysis: That being said, it his hard to ignore his 11-24 win/loss record over the last 3 years. Kaepernick is not an elite “carry the team on his back” type of quarterback, but he’s at the very least healthier than the other two big-name quarterbacks up for grabs. Imagine if Kaepernick’s 41 touchdowns to 16 interceptions over the last 3 years were on a team whose front office wasn’t falling apart. A regression from the Harbaugh days, sure, but now put him on a team that knows what they’re doing and you have a healthy, above-average quarterback.

Possible Suitors: No confirmed visits but a rumor has surfaced that Kaepernick could rejoin the 49ers. 

CB Malcolm Butler

The Player: While not a free agent, Butler is clearly available to be traded. Butler made that ever-so-famous game-clinching interception in Super Bowl XLIX, and has climbed up the New England ladder every season since, this year landing the top corner job and bringing in four interceptions. New England has never seemed to have an emotional attachment to a good player, so Butler being traded isn’t too surprising. 

Analysis: Butler was an undrafted rookie who remained relatively quiet until his big moment in the Super Bowl, and has only gotten better since that play. Now, there is the worry of what I affectionately refer to as “Foxborough Syndrome,” wherein a player who seems to come out of nowhere can blossom into a star in New England, but seems to struggle elsewhere. The reverse is also true; an historically struggling player can sign for the Patriots and have a career resurgence. I have no evidence to suggest that this will be the case for Butler, but he will be leaving an incredibly talented defensive coordinator’s scheme.

Potential Suitors: New Orleans Saints, Houston Texans

RB Marshawn Lynch

The Player: Two seasons ago, Marshawn Lynch retired in the most Marshawn Lynch way possible. Typically, players with last names that aren’t Favre tend to stay retired and bask in their millions from the comfort of whatever city they choose. However, the possibility of returning has suddenly caught real fire with Lynch. The kind of player you get with Lynch is a dominating boulder of a running back who can power through just about anybody, but let’s not ignore what led to his decision to retire. Lynch was picking up injury after injury towards the end of his tenure in Seattle, eventually having to sit out the 2015-2016 season. He literally hung up his cleats, but now he’s had a year to rest and seems to be entertaining the notion of scratching his itch to play. 

Analysis: We already know what team Lynch wants to play for and who is interested in getting him, so let’s just analyze him with the assumption he goes to the Raiders. In addition to getting to play for his childhood team, Lynch will be entering the Raider renaissance and will be a huge running relief for Derek Carr. Latavius Murray in Oakland showed flashes of what a great running game can look like, but assuming Lynch stays healthy and productive, Oakland becomes an even bigger and much realer threat to the Super Bowl if they can tighten up a few loose screws on defense. 

Potential Suitors: Oakland Raiders, Lynch’s House

Free Agency trades


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