Day 2 of NFL free agency might not have been as hectic as Thursday, but it surely was a nice encore around the league. The New England Patriots made two trades, one that could shake up the foundation of the NFL in 2017.
Meanwhile, the usually quiet Green Bay Packers added a star player from the aforementioned defending champs in a stunning move by general manager Ted Thompson.
If that weren’t enough, the situation surrounding two NFC East quarterbacks took entirely new turns. What exactly are the Cowboys doing with Tony Romo? No one seems to know, and Friday didn’t clarify that at all. On the other hand, we know exactly where Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins stands in the nation’s capital.
These are among the top-seven takeaways from a busy day of free agency around the National Football League.
Teams should really stop trading with the Patriots
After acquiring Dwayne Allen from the Indianapolis Colts for an exchange of mid-to-late round picks earlier in the week, the defending champs were back on the trade market again on Friday.
This time, New England picked up former Carolina Panthers defensive end Kony Ealy and an early third-round pick in exchange for its second-round pick in the upcoming draft. Yes, the Patriots added a solid pass rusher while moving down just eight spots in the draft (more on that here).
Ealy, 25, was a second-round pick of the Panthers back in 2014. He’s coming off a 2016 campaign that saw him record 32 tackles, five sacks and two forced fumbles. Remember, Ealy is just more than a calendar year removed from sacking then Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning three times in Super Bowl 50.
While Carolina made Ealy expendable after bringing back Julius Peppers in free agency on Friday, one would expect the team to get more for the talented young pass rusher. As it relates to the Patriots, they find an immediate replacement for Jabaal Sheard, who inked a contract with Indianapolis on Friday.
Then, in a massive move later on Friday, New England picked up talented young wide receiver Brandin Cooks from the New Orleans Saints. Cooks, 23, has long been on the trade block. But the Saints seemed to be holding out for more than the 18th overall pick, which the Tennessee Titans reportedly offered earlier (more on that here).
Making this deal so much more absurd, New England was able to land Cooks and a fourth-round pick from New Orleans in exchange for its first-round pick (32nd) overall and a late third-round pick. Yes, that’s less value than what Tennessee apparently offered New Orleans.
Now with Cooks and his two consecutive 1,000-yard seasons under his belt, Tom Brady has himself yet another toy to work with. In reality, Cooks automatically turns into the Patriots’ No. 1 receiver. They were able to make this happen without parting ways with Malcolm Butler, who was bandied about in potential trade scenarios for Cooks leading up to Friday’s deal.
This right here is one of the primary reasons New England has remained in consistent contention for the past two decades. It has the ability to find gems in trades. It’s also gotten to the point where other teams should just hang up when the Patriots call. Carolina learned this first-hand on Friday.
Wide receivers find weak market
Terrelle Pryor was said to be looking at $10-plus million annually on a long-term deal. Instead of taking advantage of last season’s breakout performance, he was met with a lukewarm market. Pryor ended up settling for a one-year deal with the Washington Redskins worth a base salary of $6 million.
It’s pretty much the same annual salary that Brandon Marshall received from the New York Giants. Marshall is five years older and finds himself on the back end of his career. On the other hand, Pryor put up a stunningly good 1,000-yard performance for the hapless Cleveland Browns. So why the small market?
We’d have to also look at Alshon Jeffery’s contract with the Philadelphia Eagles to draw a somewhat competent conclusion. Jeffery’s deal was originally reported to be $14 million for one season. As we noted earlier in the week, it’s all about the details. The former Pro Bowler actually received less than $10 million in guaranteed cash with about $5 million coming in incentives.
Alshon Jeffery Eagles deal: $9.5M, $1M base (gtd), $7.75M signing bonus, $750K workout b onus, $4.5M incentive (Pro Bowl, yards, TDs, etc
— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) March 10, 2017
There’s a couple train of thoughts here. Both Pryor and Jeffery are attempting to prove themselves on a new team in order to hit a friendlier market next March. Pryor has one year of sustained success as a receiver. Meanwhile, Jeffery himself was suspended four games for PED use last season. There’s definitely more to their stories than an unfriendly overall market.
However, the 2017 NFL Draft class is said to be absolutely stacked at wide receiver. Mike Williams, Corey Davis and John Ross are all nearly guaranteed to be first-round picks. After that, the class itself seems to be pretty deep. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Cooper Kupp, Curtis Samuel and Dede Westbrook could all likely be had on Day 2.
Why pay a high price for veterans when you can go the cheap route with younger alternatives? It’s the same issue facing running backs on the free agent market this season.
There are surely exceptions to the rule here. Pierre Garcon received an absurd five-year, $42.5 million contract with the San Francisco 49ers. Though, the details suggest this is more of a three-year contract. The same can pretty much be said for Kenny Britt in Cleveland and Robert Woods of the Los Angeles Rams.
NFL may be done with Robert Griffin III
The Cleveland Browns replaced Robert Griffin III with Brock Osweiler on their roster this week. That came after Cleveland acquired Osweiler from the Houston Texans on Thursday, one day before sending RGIII packing. This in and of itself should tell us how far the former No. 2 overall pick has fallen.
While reports surfaced immediately that RGIII is interested in signing with the New York Jets, there doesn’t seem to be any team out there paying much attention to the former Pro Bowler.
Per @RapSheet not looking like there will be much of a market for RGIII.
— Kevin Patra (@kpatra) March 10, 2017
Dealing with injuries once again in his only season with the Browns, RGIII put up just two touchdowns and three interceptions in five starts. He’s no longer the dynamic playmaker that made him such a sensation in the nation’s capital as a rookie back in 2012. That time surely has passed.
One now has to wonder whether his career in the NFL is completely over. Sure there’s teams out there in less-than-stellar quarterback situations. But if the factory of sadness decided he wasn’t worth a roster spot, that should tell us all we need to know.
Packers go free agent shopping?
Leading up to free agency, there were reports that Green Bay might very well be more active in free agency than in previous seasons. Through the first 24-plus hours of free agency, that seemed like a pipe dream. It appeared that general manager Ted Thompson and Co. were hellbent on attempting to continue building solely through the draft. In one instant, that changed big time.
Ultimately deciding to get more weapons for Aaron Rodgers, the Packers announced on Friday that they signed Pro Bowl tight end Martellus Bennett. The former New England Patriot star is coming off a tremendous season that saw him help his old squad to the Lombardi trophy.
Bennett, 30, put up 55 receptions for 701 yards and seven touchdowns while catching 75 percent of the passes thrown in his direction last season. It’s an amazing move for Green Bay, one that will surely help the team’s offense take the next step in 2017. In reality, Bennett himself is a major upgrade over Jared Cook.
While we don’t yet know if this is the end of the Packers’ free-agent splurge, the team surely made a major splash on Friday. That was music to the ears of one former MVP.
Perception is everything
In free agency, it seems to be that name recognition matters more than anything. It’s something we have seen come up a great deal in recent years. More attention has been paid to veterans on the downside of their careers signing contracts than up-and-comers inking their first non-rookie contracts.
While the media itself tends to go away from this narrative, fans are stuck in the past. They have their narrative and they’re going to stick with it. One particular signing comes to mind first.
Even with Kyle Shanahan in the mix as their head coach, the 49ers are not expected to compete for a playoff spot in the near future. Here’s a two-win team from a season ago, one that has major holes on both sides of the ball. While San Francisco looks to improve its roster over the short term, the idea is to create sustained success over the long term.
It’s in this that the team signed veteran quarterback Brian Hoyer to a two-year, $12 million contract. Hoyer isn’t the long-term solution here. Rather, he’s a stopgap option until the 49ers find a franchise quarterback, potentially Kirk Cousins.
Despite Hoyer’s previous success, this was met with widespread criticism from fans in Northern California. That’s solely based on name recognition itself, as evidenced by this stunning statistical comparison.
Hoyer, past 14 starts: 62.9 comp %, 4,051 yards, 25 TD, 7 INT, 93.7 rating
Eli Manning in 2016: 63.0 comp, 4,027 yds, 26/16, 86.0 rating.
— Vincent Frank (@VincentFrankNFL) March 10, 2017
Now, stats themselves can be just as false as perception. No one is going to seriously indicate Hoyer has been as successful as Eli Manning in his career. That’s not the point. He was the best option on the free-agent market for what the 49ers decided they needed.
The same can pretty much be said about other signings that weren’t met with much fanfare. Look at the Indianapolis Colts adding both Jabaal Sheard and John Simon to help out with their pass rush. Neither got a bunch of play, but they were two big signings for first-year general manager Chris Ballard.
Team building is about more than star power. Some of those squads who aced free agency — on Friday in particular — did what they needed to without making a big splash. That’s the root of a good front office. If nothing else, those two new regimes in San Francisco and Indy proved this to a T.
Tony Romo situation still lingering
We figured by now there would at least be some sort of movement relating to Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys. Now, two full days into free agency, and we’re no closer than we were a few months back. Romo and his $24.7 million cap hit remains with the Cowboys. The team is now exploring a trade for their former Pro Bowl signal caller after initial reports indicated he would be released (more on that here).
In terms of the teams potentially chasing Romo, neither the Texans nor the Broncos are actually willing to trade for him. In fact, both seem to be lukewarm on the idea of bringing Romo on altogether.
This could very well be a case of the Cowboys overplaying their hand. Did they really think the market might suggest the team could unload Romo with a minimal cap hit? That seemed to be the case after Houston saved money by trading Brock Osweiler to Cleveland on Thursday. Though, one day later, and it’s less a foregone conclusion than it was.
Denver currently has two quarterbacks in the mix for the starting job in the form of 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch and last year’s starter Trevor Siemian. Meanwhile, Houston’s only real internal option is Tom Savage.
If one of these two teams doesn’t bit the bait, the squads with remaining needs for a quarterback are far less attractive from Romo’s standpoint. That list includes the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns. All the while, multiple television networks are interested in Romo should he decide to retire, something that came to the forefront again on Friday.
As we wait for news of Tony Romo, let's not forget there is also Option C – retirement. Goodbye video more than a farewell to Cowboys fans?
— Jane Slater (@SlaterNFL) March 10, 2017
Whatever the end result is here, it’s a lot more messy than both Romo and the Cowboys would have liked. Let’s hope Romo’s farewell to the fans in Big D wasn’t his way of separating himself completely from the organization that took a chance on the potential future Hall of Famer as an un-drafted free agent so many years back.
Redskins dysfunction takes another turn
New Washington Redskins general manager Mike Mayock? Well, that’s certainly now a possibility after his colleague Adam Schefter reported that the NFL Media draft analyst was a candidate for the Skins’ GM opening. This comes one day after Washington fired its now former general manager.
It also comes in the midst of one of the most ridiculous standoffs in recent NFL history. Pro Bowl quarterback Kirk Cousins signed his franchise tag tender on Friday, ultimately giving Washington’s brass some negotiating power in potential trade talks with San Francisco. Then, two rather intriguing stories broke.
First off, a report came out Friday morning suggesting that Cousins told those close to him that he would end up playing for San Francisco in either 2017 or 2018. It’s a comment that NFL Media’s Mike Silver had brought up earlier in the week (more on that here).
If that weren’t enough, it was then reported that Cousins will not even negotiate a long-term deal with Washington as long as Bruce Allen remains the team’s president. That’s not going to go over too well in Landover considering Allen himself will likely lead the charge to hire a new general manager.
At some point the Redskins need to rid themselves of this drama. If that means owner Daniel Snyder biting the bullet and trading Cousins to San Francisco, then so be it. The status quo obviously isn’t going over too well here.