Heading into the final hours of the NFL free agency tampering period, there is a heck of a lot to process from the past couple of days.
We saw one team that’s been in the dumps and has cash to spend make some fearless moves, cutting and signing players to reshape the roster. We saw another team in the same exact situation doing…well, doing pretty much nothing. Another team that appeared to be on the ups is now on the precipice of disaster.
Predictably, with so much money to spend around the league, some huge contracts (not yet signed) are in the works. It’s important to remember nothing is official at this time. Players cannot sign until the new league year begins at 4 p.m. ET on Thursday, March 9. That said, barring some craziness we already know where some players are headed and roughly how big their contracts will be.
Taking a look at what’s been happening during the NFL free agency legal tampering period, these are the biggest winners and losers from around the league.
Winner: Rick Wagner sets market in deal with Lions
The Detroit Lions made a big early move on Wednesday. The franchise reportedly landed highly coveted right tackle Rick Wagner on a long-term deal that will pay him around $9 million per season (more on that here).
The deal sets the market for offensive linemen this offseason, and we expect to see some other players landing similarly-priced contracts in the coming days.
Wagner has been a starter for the Baltimore Ravens the past three seasons, and a darn good one at that. He was allowed to hit free agency because Ozzie Newsome knew he couldn’t pay him what he wanted.
Detroit had an opening at the position as right tackle Riley Reiff played out the final year of his rookie deal in 2016 as well. While Reiff isn’t a slouch, there is no doubt the Lions are getting an upgrade here.
Loser: Washington’s dysfunction reaches new low
Where to start.
Kirk Cousins reportedly wants out of Washington. And he wants out of Washington so bad the franchise might have to settle on a trade that isn’t necessarily one that will be fair-market value, with the San Francisco 49ers being his reported desired destination (more on that here).
"Cousins has made it clear he does not want to be there. He wants to get to San Francisco and play for Kyle Shanahan." @wyche89 on Cousins
— NFL Media (@NFLMedia) March 8, 2017
On top of that, the team’s two top receivers from last year, Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson (more on them in a bit) are both goners. And Garcon, who reportedly asked for a trade during the season last year, is not hiding his feelings about the dysfunction going on in the nation’s capital.
— Pierre Garçon (@PierreGarcon) March 6, 2017
Perhaps at the root of all this dysfunction is the fact that there is, at the least, some discord between owner Daniel Snyder and general manager Scot McCloughan. The latter hasn’t been a part of the team’s offseason planning since well before the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine, which he missed. At this time, it’s being reported that Washington is actually actively looking at options to replace McCloughan.
This is the time of year in which teams are supposed to be figuring out ways to come together. Instead, this team appears to be falling apart at the seams.
Winner: 49ers binge and purge
John Lynch and Co. have wasted absolutely no time restructuring the roster of the San Francisco 49ers, purging some well known players (and some not so well known) while making some huge splashes in free agency, with more to likely come.
First, the purging.
The 49ers let veteran starting receiver Torrey Smith hit the open market, then switched to defense and released Pro Bowl starting safety Antoine Bethea. They also dumped failed third-round center from 2014, Marcus Martin, who never lived up to expectations.
Out with the old and in with the new. These are significant moves, and they represent a complete shift away from Trent Baalke’s vision.
In its place, the 49ers are clearly under new management — a team that is not afraid to get what it wants on the offensive side of the ball.
Shanahan, who made Taylor Gabriel into a star, also got a speedster for his tool kit in Olympian Marquise Goodwin, previously a Buffalo Bills receiver. Additionally, the 49ers reportedly landed Pro Bowl fullback Kyle Juszczyk (barring last-minute setback), who is considered to be the best at his position in the NFL.
A significant defensive move was made as well, as Super Bowl XLVIII MVP Malcolm Smith will reportedly sign when free agency opens on Thursday.
This team had gobs of cash to spend heading into free agency and isn’t done spending still. Better yet, it appears the money is being smartly spent.
Loser: Adrian Peterson rumors keep getting stomped
If you believe Adrian Peterson’s father, the veteran running back is in high demand. High demand, indeed. He’s been linked to the Oakland Raiders, Seattle Seahawks, Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots.
Unfortunately, it seems like all the attention might just be a one-sided affair.
The Raiders are still out there as a possibility, but general manager Reggie McKenzie all but said his team wouldn’t be throwing much money around in free agency. His focus is on extending quarterback Derek Carr and pass rusher extraordinaire Khalil Mack.
So where does that leave Peterson?
In all likelihood, it means he will probably slink back to Minnesota to play out the rest of his career with the team that drafted him, for a fraction of the price he desires. That is, if the Vikings actually want him back.
Word is teams that would be interested in Adrian Peterson are put off by his asking price. Asking double what teams looking to pay.
— Benjamin Allbright (@AllbrightNFL) March 8, 2017
Winner: Colts hang onto Jack Doyle, trade Dwayne Allen
The Indianapolis Colts didn’t make any huge splashes, but they made a couple savvy moves under rookie general manager Chris Ballard, both revolving around tight ends.
First off, the Colts managed to keep tight end Jack Doyle from hitting the open market, signing him to a deal Tuesday (more on that here).
Doyle was an up-and-coming player for Indy last year in his first real season as a featured player. He emerged as a go-to receiving option when Coby Fleener left in free agency last year, catching 59 passes for 584 yards and five touchdowns.
Then on Wednesday, Ballard engineered a trade that sent Dwayne Allen to the New England Patriots (details here).
Allen has always been a guy who was supposed to be a big playmaker for Indy but never really lived up to his promise. He’s a tremendous red-zone weapon but just isn’t as consistent as Doyle. Furthermore, the Colts must have faith that second-year tight end Erik Swoope is ready to make a bigger impact in 2017.
Not letting Doyle leave via free agency was a huge win for this team, as was landing draft currency for a player who never really fit in.
Loser: Brandin Cooks might be stuck in the Bayou
New Orleans Saints receiver Brandin Cooks has reportedly been the instigating force behind trade talks the past couple of weeks. He apparently isn’t fond of playing second fiddle, despite the fact that he’s actually been quite productive in that role with the Saints the past couple of years.
Head coach Sean Payton recently spoke about this situation in an interview at the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine. He said the team was willing to explore trade options involving Cooks because his defense needs some fixing, which you can read more about here.
The Tennessee Titans were considered to be front runners to land Cooks in a trade, but they reportedly were rebuffed after offering the No. 18 overall pick for his services. This news followed a report that the Saints also rejected an offer for New England’s first-round pick this year.
What it means is that, while the Saints say they’re potentially open for business here, Cooks isn’t likely going anywhere. If teams can’t score him for that kind of bounty, he’s almost certainly going to be stuck in the Bayou.
Winner: DeSean Jackson is going to get PAID
We all saw what kind of cash Antonio Brown landed in his new deal last week before the free agency frenzy began. Alshon Jeffery might come close to rivaling that number when he lands in his new digs (presumably).
Though DeSean Jackson will likely sign a deal a tier below these No. 1 receivers, he’s still set up to land some big dollar signs when he inks his new contract. It won’t be in Washington. It might be in Philadelphia, though at this point the team with the most clout on this front is Tampa Bay.
Jackson was reportedly seeking between $10-12 million heading into free agency, and the Buccaneers are said to be offering him a deal in that range (more on that here).
It seems like a perfect fit, as Jackson’s quickness and speed make him a nice complement to the big-bodied Mike Evans. Additionally, he is a receiver that quarterback Jameis Winston is excited about potentially playing with in 2017.
There is still a chance another team swoops in and blows Jackson away with a big offer. But for now it appears he’s headed to Tampa Bay on a big-money deal.
Loser: Bears have to settle for Mike Glennon
The Chicago Bears and Mike Glennon are “all but done” finalizing a contract that will make the free agent quarterback the starter in the Windy City. In one fell swoop, Jay Cutler will certainly be cut in the process, though it’s hard to say the Bears will actually be any better off.
Neither option panned out. Garoppolo’s asking price ended up being something astronomical that no team has come close to matching.
In the end, Chicago is settling for a guy who showed some promise during his rookie season. But he was benched for Josh McCown in his second year before being ultimately shoved aside for a legitimate franchise passer in Jameis Winston.
Glennon might end up becoming a solid starter. Heck, maybe the Bears end up looking like the smartest kid in class when it’s all said and done. But right now, that doesn’t look to be the case.
Winner: Giants strike gold with Brandon Marshall
After being released by the New York Jets, veteran receiver Brandon Marshall didn’t even have to move his family to land a prime gig.
On Tuesday morning, Marshall signed a two-year, $12 million contract to play with Eli Manning, Odell Beckham Jr. and Co. as a member of the New York Giants.
Likely, Marshall could have angled for more money elsewhere. He’s still a dominant receiver, though last year was a down year thanks to some terrible quarterback play. However, as he explained after agreeing to terms with the Giants, winning is the most important thing on his mind these days.
“That’s why I’m here,” he said, per Michael Eisen of the team’s official website. “I’m here just because of that reason, because I want to finish my career as a winner.”
Marshall, in his 11 seasons as a pro, has never played in a postseason game.
He’ll certainly have a legitimate chance in 2017. By adding him, the Giants now feature one of the most-elite receiving corps in the NFL. Coupled with OBJ and rising star Sterling Shepard, Marshall gives New York a 1-2-3 punch capable of dominating every single Sunday.
Loser: Browns asleep at the wheel?
It’s hard to fathom that the team with the most money to spend has been so dormant the past couple of days. You’d think the Cleveland Browns would have been out there making moves like we saw from San Francisco, but right now it’s pretty much just crickets.
It all started when the Browns decided against using the franchise tag to secure Terrelle Pryor. While it’s true the nearly $16 million price tag to use the franchise tag is steep, it’s not like the Browns don’t have the money. Furthermore, outside of Pryor, the Browns are awfully thin at receiver aside from second-year player Corey Coleman.
While Pryor is reportedly garnering interest from at least five other teams, the Browns are apparently okay letting this talented young receiver walk away.
Aside from the Pryor situation, there just isn’t much going on at this time. The Browns haven’t been seriously linked to anyone except safety Tony Jefferson, who’d be a nice addition to the defense. Unfortunately, they lost out on this as well, as the Baltimore Ravens are reportedly going to sign him once free agency opens on Thursday. Interestingly, the Browns actually offered Jefferson more money (more on that here).
Now, it’s certainly possible the Browns will end up landing some top-end free agents before the frenzy has died down. But right now, the organization seems to be taking a bit too much of a ponderous approach to bettering its roster, especially with more than $100 million in cap space with which to lure top players.
Perhaps this is due to the fact that free agents are wary of signing with Cleveland. This was something that popped up last year around the same time, as free agents reportedly were very turned off by the franchise’s approach.
Time will tell if the Moneyball crew in Cleveland ends up making us look like fools for doubting them. But for now, we’re not convinced they know what they’re doing over there.