Thursday’s free-agent action around the NFL was much less fierce than the previous three days, but a lot did go down around the league.
From the Oakland Raiders making yet another splash in free agency to rumors heating up that Colin Kaepernick could be on his way out of San Francisco, the Bay Area was aroused by news.
Meanwhile, back east, the New York Jets addressed a major hole in the backfield by locking up three proven veterans to create a solid trio moving forward.
These are among the eight biggest takeaways from Thursday’s free-agent action.
1. Raiders continue to make moves
— OAKLAND RAIDERS (@RAIDERS) March 11, 2016
Whether the San Francisco 49ers or Kansas City Chiefs really had much of an opportunity to land Sean Smith is anyone’s guess.
What we do know is that the Oakland Raiders won the sweepstakes for this top-end cornerback a day after adding play-makers on both sides of the ball.
Smith fits what defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. does on that side of the ball. At 6-foot-2, the veteran is that tall corner that seems to fit well into what defenses are building in today’s NFL.
He also fills a major need in a secondary that needs a lot of work if the Raiders are truly going to compete for the AFC West title in 2016.
2. Jets doing work in the backfield
Now that the details of Matt Forte’s have trickled in, it has to be considered a major steal for a Jets team that lost former starter Chris Ivory to the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency. Forte is set to make $12 million over three years with just $8 million guaranteed.
New York then went out there on Thursday and re-signed change-of-pace back Bilal Powell to a three-year, $11.3 million contract before adding former New Orleans Saints ball carrier Khiry Robinson on a short-term deal.
Not only have all three of these running backs shown they can produce on the ground, they fit extremely well in a Chan Gailey offense that asks for its running backs to produce in the passing game. After all, they combined for a whopping 108 receptions last year.
Whoever is under center in New York next season is going to have an extremely capable trio of running backs — a group that is vastly improved from the Ivory-Powell tandem of a season ago.
3. Market materializes for Colin Kaepernick
When a quarterback that thew six touchdowns in eight games last season finds teams in a bidding war for his services, we know something is funky regarding the quarterback position in the NFL.
That’s the situation the San Francisco 49ers find themselves in with the Denver Broncos, Cleveland Browns and New York Jets all discussing a trade for this highly embattled quarterback.
It’s going to be interesting to see who ends up landing Kaepernick. While our money is on Denver, both the Jets and Browns find themselves without a starting quarterback days into free agency.
This is a product of both a watered-down market for veteran quarterbacks and just how different NFL teams might view Kaepernick juxtaposed to the media and fans.
If San Francisco is able to acquire a second-round pick for this quarterback, it will tell us everything we need to know about just how desperate some teams are to land someone of any sort of viability and experience.
4. Wide receivers continue to be ridiculously overvalued
Mohamed Sanu received a five-year, $32.5 million contract from the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday. Sanu, a third-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals back in 2012, recorded 33 receptions for less than 400 yards and zero touchdowns last season.
The $14 million guaranteed on Sanu’s deal means that the Falcons have already agreed to pay him $1.3 million for every touchdown he’s scored in the NFL.
This is what I call paying for projection instead of production. It’s a dangerous precedent for a team to set. It also tells us a story of an incredibly weak market for receivers in today’s free agency.
This comes one day after the Detroit Lions doled out $40 million over five years to fellow former Bengals wide receiver Marvin Jones. That deal included $20 million in guarantees.
Meanwhile, the San Diego Chargers exhausted $24 million over four years on a pass catcher in Travis Benjamin that had put up 41 career receptions in three seasons before a semi-breakout campaign this past year.
Some of this had to do with what has to be considered a weak draft class at the wide receiver position. Then again, teams are simply looking to hit lightning in a bottle at a position that’s taken on much more importance in today’s pass-first NFL.
5. Details of Ladarius Green signing shows the Steelers get it
Pittsburgh rarely hits the free-agent market. Instead, this is a team that has pretty much built through the draft in the past. It’s a sound strategy that has worked for the most part.
That changed to an extent on Wednesday when Pittsburgh signed this former San Diego Chargers tight end.
Reports indicating on Thursday that the deal was worth $20 million over four seasons with just $4.8 million guaranteed tells us a story of an organization that gets it.
Playing second fiddle to Antonio Gates over the past four seasons, Green hasn’t necessarily had the opportunities to put up big numbers. Though, he was able to add 37 receptions for 429 yards and four scores with Gates missing five games to injury last season.
At 6-foot-6, Green is the type of target that’s going to absolutely thrive in Pittsburgh’s passing game. Combine him with Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant, and Ben Roethlisberger is going to absolutely eat.
6. Broncos put themselves in unenviable situation
No one is going to sit here and blame Denver for not ponying up $72 million to retain Brock Osweiler. That’s an absolutely ridiculous number for someone with seven career starts under his belt.
John Elway and Co. also can’t be blamed for Peyton Manning retiring after the horrendous performance we have seen from him over the past year and a half.
We can, however, blame the Broncos for not preparing for this eventuality. It’s been years since the veteran free-agent market has been robust at the quarterback position.
Denver knows this full well, as it was the last team to sign a franchise signal caller when Manning elected to come to Mile High back in 2012.
Now stuck with options that include Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III and Ryan Fitzpatrick, the defending champs find themselves in an unenviable position. In fact, they are just one of four or five teams without a projected starting quarterback on the roster.
Kaepernick is reportedly viewed as the Broncos’ top choice right now. And in reality, he might be an upgrade over what the team had last season.
The issue here, however, is that Denver might end up being embroiled in a bidding war for Kaepernick — a quarterback that has regressed in each of the past two seasons. That’s not a situation a defending champion wants to find itself in.
7. Jets doing Ryan Fitzpatrick wrong?
A report surfaced on Thursday that the Jets are offering Fitzpatrick “backup” type of money in free agency (via Pro Football Talk).
What that means is anyone’s guess, because the term backup money itself isn’t what it used to be.
Depending on who leaked this information, it could very well be much closer to bottom-end starter money, which comes in at around somewhere near $10 million per season.
That’s still below market value in today’s NFL. After all, Brock Osweiler received $18 million per. Heck, Nick Foles is earning nearly $12.3 million annually.
Fitzpatrick, 33, is coming off a career season that saw him throw for over 3,900 yards with 31 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He also led the Jets to a surprising 10-win campaign.
With Geno Smith as the only real internal option and while currently being linked to Kaepernick, it’s safe to say that Fitzpatrick is the Jets’ best hope. Unfortunately, the team doesn’t appear to be valuing him too high at this point.
8. Cowboys go bargain shopping, sign much-needed defensive help
Signing former Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Cedric Thornton isn’t going to be someone that’s going to get a fan base excited. It’s not going to make the headlines.
It was, however, a move that the Cowboys needed to make. Thornton, a four-year pro from Southern Arkansas, has proven himself to be among the best run-stuffing players at his position over the past couple years.
Playing a vital role in Philadelphia’s front seven over the past three seasons, Thornton has started 45 of a possible 48 games.
Not only did Dallas lure Thornton away from the division-rival Eagles, it did so on a mere four year, $17 million contract. This is what we call addressing a position of need and finding utmost value when striking. Good for Jerry Jones and Co.