NFL

Ten biggest winners and losers from Thursday’s NFL free agency frenzy

NFL free agency
Jesse Reed
Written by Jesse Reed

It’s still very early, but after less than one full day of NFL free agency action we definitely have seen some winners and losers emerge.

One of the craziest trades we’ve seen in a while went down Thursday. The Cleveland Browns shocked everyone by making a move that sent Brock Osweiler their way. But were they winners or losers in the exchange?

The Super Bowl champs made some major moves, taking advantage of some serious salary cap space. We already know those moves will likely pan out, barring a trip into the bizarro world.

While many teams were getting richer with big moves, one particular AFC North squad watched two of its best players leave for greener pastures. Definite losers in the early goings of NFL free agency this year.

We’re taking a trip around the league to examine the best and worst moves Thursday had to offer, and we start with some good news for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Winner: Eagles ready to fly on offense

Titans

The Eagles needed to bring in talented receivers to give young Carson Wentz the best chance to develop in the coming years.

Mission accomplished.

Philly landed the top free agent receiver available on a low-risk, high-reward one-year contract worth $14 million. Alshon Jeffery, who said he turned down more security on a long-term deal with the Minnesota Vikings, wanted to play with Wentz and prove himself in Philadelphia (more on that here).

Earlier in the day, the Eagles reportedly came to terms on a three-year deal with veteran receiver Torrey Smith.

Both of these playmakers have the ability to stretch the field, which was a missing element in Philadelphia’s offense last season. In addition to Jordan Matthews, Dorial Green-Beckham and tight end Zach Ertz, the Eagles now have quite the arsenal with which to attack defenses through the air.

Loser: Bengals lose two key starters

NFL free agency, Kevin Zeitler

Heading into free agency, the Cincinnati Bengals had plenty of cap space with which to look at bringing in some outside talent while keeping their own free agents from running away.

Two of the most important players they needed to keep have moved on, however, leaving this team in quite a lurch.

All-Pro starting left tackle Andrew Whitworth left to sign with the Los Angeles Rams. He’ll be a tremendous addition to that team, and Cincinnati doesn’t have anyone close to that caliber who can take his place.

Kevin Zeitler, one of the biggest prizes in free agency, bolted to join the Cleveland Browns, who were happy to pay him some huge money to jump ship.

At least one player was obviously distressed by these departures, and we’re pretty sure he’s not alone.

Cincinnati is a team that is coming off one of its worst campaigns in some time, going 6-9-1.

It failed to retain its own free agents last year and the offense suffered badly as a result. Now it’s going to be even harder to put up a fight without these two key starters, both of whom might have been convinced to stay if only the Bengals weren’t awful about paying their own players.

Winner: Browns crazy like a fox

One day after we wondered if the Cleveland Browns were asleep at the wheel, they ended up making one of the biggest moves in years, shocking onlookers in the process.

Cleveland got the Houston Texans to give up a 2017 sixth-round pick, 2018 second-round pick and Brock Osweiler for a fourth-round pick this year. Just so Houston could get Osweiler off the books. It was an NBA-style trade that could result in another NBA-style move, as the Browns are reportedly mulling over just releasing Osweiler if they can’t find a trade partner (more on that here).

Additionally, the Browns will reportedly release Robert Griffin III, and at this point it seems like they’re in Jimmy Garoppolo or bust mode. Unfortunately, the New England Patriots are seeking a king’s ransom that might prove too costly even for this team, which is loaded with high draft picks the next two years.

Still, even if they don’t land Garoppolo, the Browns pulled off a coup in the Osweiler trade.

They also signed promising guard Joel Bitonio to a lucrative five-year contract extension. Then they landed the biggest fish of them all in terms of offensive line talent, signing Kevin Zeitler to a huge contract that solidifies their line in a major way.

Almost lost in the shuffle, Cleveland signed Kenny Britt to a four-year deal to bolster its receiving corps.

Loser: Osweiler finds out just how much he’s not wanted

Brock Osweiler was one of the biggest NFL free agency misses from last year

It’s unclear exactly what will happen to Osweiler, who as we mentioned before could either be released outright, traded or allowed to compete for a roster spot.

There are a couple of clear indicators that both the Texans and Browns have placed a minuscule value on him as a player, however. First off, Houston hardly got anything in return to simply offload his salary. That was the only real reason to do the deal, especially considering they actually lost value in terms of draft currency in the deal.

“It’s hard to remember in the salary-cap era another team when a team traded a contract to get it off its books. But Houston was so anxious to rid itself of Osweiler and move on to its next quarterbacking chapter that it is giving Cleveland extra picks to take him and his contract,” wrote ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Then there’s the fact that, when addressing the trade itself, Browns Executive Vice President of Football Operations Sashi Brown mentioned Osweiler as almost an afterthought.

In the end, Osweiler is laughing all the way to the bank. Whether the Browns keep him or cut him, they’re on the hook for his $16 million salary, which is fully guaranteed. Still, it can’t feel good to know you were traded for peanuts just so that your team could, in a sense, take out the trash.

Winner: Patriots continue to impress

Bill Belichick and the Patriots are in a prime position heading into free agency with Jimmy Garoppolo in their back pocket.

The New England Patriots went into free agency with more money to spend than most teams around the league. And they put that money to good use.

Early Thursday morning, it was reported the Pats were bringing in top free-agent cornerback Stephon Gilmore on a deal worth $13 million per year on average. This was kind of a stunner, because the Chicago Bears were thought to be the team with the angle on this particular player until the last minute.

This signing gave the Patriots a tremendous bargaining chip in their reported pursuit of New Orleans Saints receiver Brandin Cooks. They are reportedly dangling Malcolm Butler as trade bait to land Cooks.

New England also brought back defensive tackle Alan Branch on a two-year deal worth $12 million. He, along with Malcolm Brown, gives the Pats a tremendous run-stuffing force in the middle.

Additionally, though less heralded, the Patriots brought back safety Duron Harmon on a four-year worth up to $17.5 million, per Albert Breer of The MMQB.

Then there’s the trade that was made official Thursday but worked out Wednesday that sent a fourth-round pick to the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for tight end Dwayne Allen and a sixth-round pick.

On top of it all, Dont’a Hightower is still unsigned and could return to the fold, in addition to any other moves that could still be made. The Patriots absolutely crushed the first day of free agency, something that should make the rest of the league very uncomfortable.

And they still might make out like a bandit if anyone’s willing to spend enough to land Jimmy Garoppolo.

Loser: Adrian Peterson still waiting for the phone to ring

Wednesday, we highlighted Peterson because all the rumors surrounding his potential landing spots kept getting stomped by the teams that were supposedly interested. We postulated at the time that all the rumors had been generated by Peterson’s people. That sentiment was one others shared as well.

Fast forward another day, and it seems we were right.

So far, no teams have been mentioned as possible landing spots for the running back since before free agency began. There just isn’t anything going on. Teams aren’t interested in bringing Peterson on board, at least not at this time.

And it’s hardly surprising. Despite his prolific career, he’s going to be 32 this year and is coming off a significant knee injury. Not only that, but it’s been reported he’s overvaluing his worth in a significant way, seeking upwards of double what teams might be willing to pay.

Winner: Jaguars pounce on a couple high-prized defenders

A.J. Bouye

It’s hard not to like what the Jacksonville Jaguars have going on defense right now.

They pounced on two of the biggest free agent defenders on the market Thursday and added another veteran who will be a big help on the back end.

First, the big one. Jacksonville nabbed cornerback A.J. Bouye, who played for AFC South rival Houston the past few years. Bouye blossomed into a tremendous cover corner last season for the Texans and made his presence known with two interceptions during the playoffs, including one against Tom Brady. It was well known he’d be landing a huge contract wherever he signed, but the numbers are still a bit stunning (details here).

Now the Jags can pair Bouye with second-year stud Jalen Ramsey, who certainly lived up to his status as a first-round pick last year. Tying things up on the back end is the aforementioned veteran, Barry Church, who left the Dallas Cowboys to cover the back end for the Jaguars on a four-year deal worth up to $26 million.

Then to solidify the front end, Jacksonville lured dominant defensive lineman Calais Campbell, who chose the Jags over the Denver Broncos. Campbell now joins a defensive front that has offense-wrecking potential featuring the likes of Dante Fowler Jr. and Malik Jackson.

It was a very nice haul. Now, if only the offense could hold up its end of the bargain, the Jags will really have something.

Loser: Panthers break the bank for left tackle Matt Kalil

It’s well known by those who evaluate NFL talent that Matt Kalil is not a very good left tackle. In fact, to say he’s average would be a tremendous overstatement. He’s well below average — just as likely to get his quarterback sacked as he is to make a successful stand.

So it was no surprise when Minnesota Vikings fans and people who study game tape started losing it on social media when news broke that the Carolina Panthers were signing Kalil to a five-year, $55.5 million contract with $25 million guaranteed.

It’s like the guys in the Panthers’ front office have it in for Cam Newton at this point. Kalil is awful in pass protection. When he’s not getting burned by speed on the edge he’s getting bulldozed into the quarterback on a power move.

Honestly. The Panthers would have been just as well off handing Mike Remmers another contract. It’s just incomprehensible what the Panthers did here, especially because Kalil, who was absolutely atrocious in 2015, missed all but two games last year with a hip injury.

For shame. At least his brother, Ryan, is excited about playing on the same team. That’s about the only thing we can think of that doesn’t suck here.

Winner: Ravens get defensive, keep Brandon Williams

Brandon Williams

Heading into free agency, the Baltimore Ravens were bracing for the impact of losing offensive tackle Rick Wagner and nose tackle Brandon Williams. The first shoe dropped Wednesday, as Wagner agreed to terms with the Detroit Lions.

Then on Thursday, a report bubbled up that Williams was being pursued by the Tennessee Titans — a team with need at the position and cash to spend. Baltimore wouldn’t be denied, however, and agreed to terms on a five-year contract that made Williams the richest player at his position in the NFL (contract details here).

This, all by itself, was a huge win. But it wasn’t the only impressive roster move the Ravens made. In addition, they landed prized free agent safety Tony Jefferson, who was their top outside target and the target of many other teams besides.

On the other side of the ball in a move that got less attention but could still be huge, Baltimore brought in running back Danny Woodhead, who is a tremendous weapon out of the backfield.

Loser: No market for Kaepernick?

Okay. It’s early. But so far the lack of any chatter whatsoever surrounding Colin Kaepernick is a bit stunning. He’s not linked to any team. None. Since he opted out of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers, NFL insiders have reported nothing (but crickets) as it pertains to his next landing spot.

This is all the more shocking when you consider Jay Cutler, just after being released in Chicago, was garnering interest from the New York Jets.

Or that, just after news broke that the Browns made the trade with Houston for Brock Osweiler, they were being contacted by teams about him.

Or that Mike Glennon is about to land a three-year deal worth a reported $45 million ($19 million guaranteed), and that free agents actually are excited about possibly joining him in Chicago.

Kaepernick has been a very successful quarterback who has won some big games in his career. Yet you can’t find a single viable report connecting him to any teams, despite what is a startling lack of starting-caliber quarterbacks available on the market.

Perhaps this has something to do with how top brass around the NFL view the controversial player. One report indicated that NFL front office personnel view Kaepernick as an untouchable player, with one executive calling him “an embarrassment to football.”

Whatever the case may be, it’s pretty clear that Kaepernick isn’t seen as a player any team wants to make the face of their franchise right now.

About the author

Jesse Reed

Jesse Reed

Managing Editor here at Sportsnaut. Featured on Yardbarker, Foxsports.com and MSN.com, and formerly was a breaking news writer/NFL analyst for Bleacher Report.