The NFL offseason is always a wild ride, but the events that have transpired in recent weeks have led to an even more intense roller coaster than usual.
Monster trades have gone down, some players landed deals that are still truly stunning, and a new contract strategy has taken root that could have lasting ramifications.
We’re taking a look at the most jaw-dropping events that have transpired since the start of the new year.
Ravens sign Robert Griffin III
This was pretty stunning. It seemed like RG3 was a forgotten figure after being mostly invisible in 2017 aside from the occasional Twitter eruption. Then, out of the blue, the Baltimore Ravens signed him to a very low-risk contract and gave him another chance to make it in the NFL. Griffin hasn’t played since the final game of the 2016 season. He appeared in just six games that season due to injuries, and missed the entire 2015 season as a member of Washington after falling out of favor with the organization. So, it was a huge shock when Baltimore signed Griffin to back up Joe Flacco.
Bears’ free agency gluttony
In hindsight, what Chicago did makes a ton of sense. The Bears have a promising young quarterback who is signed to a very cheap deal and had gobs of cap space to work with. They saw a chance to get immediately better and didn’t waste any time going about making it happen. Still, it’s pretty crazy just how aggressive general manager Ryan Pace was this offseason. He landed a high-powered trio of offensive skill position players in Allen Robinson, Trey Burton and Taylor Gabriel, dropping a cool $100 million on those three deals alone. Then Chicago re-signed cornerback Kyle Fuller to a four-year deal worth up to $56 million. Needless to say, Chicago now has some serious pressure to succeed, and do it fast.
Browns manage to trade all three QBs from 2017
The Cleveland Browns won nary a single game last year and featured three sub-par quarterbacks at various points in the season. Between them, Kevin Hogan, Cody Kessler and DeShone Kizer completed just 54.4 percent of their passes for 3,537 yards with 15 touchdowns and 28 interceptions — dismal statistics, all. Yet somehow, some way, general manager John Dorsey was able to convince opposing general managers into trades for each of these three quarterbacks. Really, this by itself is enough to warrant praise. Cleveland did a bunch of other admirable work this offseason as well, and if the Browns don’t screw up their quarterback situation they could be darn good in the coming years.
Rams become instant Super Bowl contenders with flurry of moves
The Los Angeles Rams were already on the rise after making the playoffs with an NFC West best record of 11-5. But what general manager Les Snead did this offseason propelled this team into the upper echelon and made the Rams instant Super Bowl contenders. The two trades to bring in top cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib gives Los Angeles one of the league’s best 1-2 punches at the position. Adding Ndamukong Suh to play next to Aaron Donald was a stroke of genius. Trading for Brandin Cooks gives LA its replacement for Sammy Watkins, at a discounted rate, no less. There are very few weaknesses to this roster now, and the one that stand out the most can be addressed in the draft.
Packers release Jordy Nelson, sign Jimmy Graham
There’s no doubt that Brian Gutekunst put his stamp on Green Bay’s roster in his first year as the team’s general manager. Taking over for Ted Thompson who was known for being extremely conservative in free agency, Gutekunst swung a deal to bring in one of the top free agents this year in tight end Jimmy Graham. That, by itself was stunning enough. Then, in a corresponding move to free up the cap space needed to sign Graham, he released fan favorite (and favorite of Aaron Rodgers), receiver Jordy Nelson. Now, Nelson did have a down year in 2016, but so did the entire offense while Rodgers was out with an injury. Needless to say, fans won’t be happy if Graham doesn’t provide a huge spark.
Jaguars continue to splurge in free agency
The past couple of seasons, Jacksonville had been very bold about spending massive amounts of money to lure high-profile free agents. Adding players like Malik Jackson, Calais Campbell and A.J. Bouye from 2016-17 helped the Jaguars become a title contender last year. But it was truly stunning when, seemingly out of the blue, the Jags landed prized free agent guard Andrew Norwell this spring. Signing him to a massive five-year deal worth up to $66.5 million, Jacksonville once again got super aggressive about landing a blue-chip player who should have a major impact going forward.
Chiefs throwing mad money at Sammy Watkins
It’s been well over a month since the Kansas City Chiefs landed wide receiver Sammy Watkins, and I’m still stunned at just how much money they gave up to land him. Watkins signed a three-year deal worth up to $48 million, including a $21 million signing bonus and $30 million fully guaranteed at signing. That’s just absurd money to throw at a player who has struggled to stay healthy. Furthermore, we’re talking about a player who has never hauled in double-digit touchdowns and has one 1,000-yard season in his career. This was one of the worst deals in free agency, in my humble opinion. And it could come back to haunt the Chiefs in a big way.
Kirk Cousins sets new precedent for NFL contract strategy
What Kirk Cousins did from 2016-18 will be talked about for years to come. As the quarterback in Washington from 2016-17, he signed consecutive franchise tags that earned him just under $43.9 million, all fully guaranteed. Then, in free agency, as the best available quarterback this year, he signed a three-year, fully-guaranteed contract with the Minnesota Vikings that will pay him $84 million, not to mention the incentives he can earn to boost those numbers. So, in five years, Cousins will have brought home $127.89 million, all fully guaranteed. This is unprecedented for a football player, and this maneuvering has created waves that will reshape how contracts are done in future years, especially for franchise quarterbacks.
Exodus in New England
The New England Patriots are famous for letting players walk, even while they are still in their prime. That said, what happened this offseason was pretty startling, as the Patriots saw a veritable exodus of top talent. Nate Solder, Malcolm Butler, Dion Lewis, Danny Amendola, Johnson Bademosi and Cameron Fleming all bolted for greener pastures. It’s hardly surprising that Butler left, and New England knew it was going to be tough to keep Solder. Still, the other departures were surprising by themselves, and absolutely startling when put together as a group. Time for anther rebuild, which is always easier when Tom Brady is still the man in the middle of it all.
Nate Solder’s monster contract
As we already alluded to, New England knew Solder was going to get some big offers in free agency and was bracing to watch him leave. That said, what Solder ended up landing in free agency when he signed with the New York Giants is nothing short of staggering. Solder is now the highest-paid offensive lineman in the NFL (by far). He signed a four-year deal worth up to $62 million, with $34.8 million fully guaranteed at signing. Now, kudos to him for landing this monster deal. But analytically speaking, this was far too much to pay an above-average offensive lineman. He’s an upgrade over what New York had last year, but in no way is Solder among the elite at his position.
Oakland’s over-the-hill free agency extravaganza
By now, you’ve probably heard all the jokes about how Jon Gruden has assembled the perfect team…from 2012. Oakland’s free agency moves this offseason have been very puzzling. The Raiders have brought in a bunch of players whose best years are behind them, including Jordy Nelson, Doug Martin, Marcus Gilchrist, Josh Johnson, Breno Giacomini, Reggie Nelson and Leon Hall. Nelson, we kind of get, but to sign him the Raiders cut Michael Crabtree, and that’s a real head-scratching move considering where both players are at in their careers. Gruden’s first year could end up being a spectacular failure, and at least one former Raider is very displeased by all this.
Philly manages to beef up already insane front seven
The Philadelphia Eagles won Super Bowl LII, in part, due to their extremely deep and talented front seven, particularly their defensive line. Whenever Philly’s defense needed a big play, either in the regular season, playoffs or that championship game, it was the defensive line that came up huge. Yet somehow, general manager Howie Roseman managed to add even more firepower to this unit, signing former All-Pro Haloti Ngata and landing stud defensive end Michael Bennett in a trade with Seattle (giving up practically nothing in exchange, no less). Then, on top of it all, he sweetened the pot to convince veteran Chris Long to come back for another go, and NFC East quarterbacks must be scared out of their minds.
Richard Sherman moves from Seattle to San Francisco
There had been signs that the Seattle Seahawks would move on from Richard Sherman, even going back to last year. So, the fact that he was released wasn’t all that shocking. The Seahawks saved some much-needed cap space, and Sherman has been injured the past two years. That said, it was pretty stunning when Sherman ended up in San Francisco discussing a deal with the 49ers, just hours after being released. As we know, he ended up signing a big-time prove-it deal to play for the 49ers, and revenge against his former team is very much on his mind.
Bucs land JPP in trade with Big Blue
At the tail end of an NFL offseason that featured more trades than any other year this scribe can remember, it was still pretty shocking when the Giants traded Jason Pierre-Paul to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Really, nobody saw this coming. Pierre-Paul recently signed an extension with the Giants, and he’s come back very nicely since the fireworks accident that took a portion of his right hand, racking up 15.5 sacks the past two seasons. It signals a new era, both for New York and for Tampa Bay. The Bucs had dire need of pass-rushing help, and Pierre-Paul certainly can provide that. The Giants now are very much in play for Bradley Chubb at No. 2 overall as well.
Malcolm Butler lands mammoth contract in Tennessee
What a difference a month makes. In early February, Butler was conspicuously absent during Super Bowl LII, when for reasons we still don’t completely understand, Bill Belichick refused to play him. A bunch of rumors flew around about potential off-field issues that might have led to this decision, but in the end we’re still have no idea what really transpired. Fast forward to the start of free agency, and not only did Butler land a deal quickly, he ended up signing one of the biggest deals in free agency for a non-quarterback. What really makes this even more surprising is that Butler didn’t have an exceptionally good 2017 campaign. Yet Tennessee ponied up some huge money to reunite him with his old Patriots teammate, Logan Ryan.