The past couple of days have resulted in some monumental shifts in power around the league as players have unofficially agreed to new deals with teams during the NFL legal tampering period. Starting on Wednesday at noon Eastern, those deals can become official.
Among them, Kirk Cousins has reportedly settled on his new team and is about to cash in like none before him. The Windy City hauled in some prized talent on offense, ushering in what could be a new golden era of offensive prowess.
On the other end of the spectrum, two quarterback-needy teams missed out big time, and the Indianapolis Colts swung for the fences only to strike out on a top-tier offensive lineman.
These are the biggest winners and losers from the past two days as the NFL legal tampering period got free agency kicked off with a bang.
Winner: Jaguars upgrade offense in a big way
On Monday, the news surrounding Andrew Norwell was that he was going to choose between the New York Giants, Indianapolis Colts and San Francisco 49ers. By Tuesday morning, all that was thrown out the window as the Jacksonville Jaguars shocked everyone by landing one of the biggest fishes in free agency this year.
Norwell is a devastating run blocker who moves well in space, and he’s also a very strong pass-protecting guard who will be a huge upgrade for the Jags. Teaming him up with Leonard Fournette spells doom for the rest of the AFC South, and he will help keep Blake Bortles clean, too.
Sure, Jacksonville reportedly paid an arm and a leg to land him (five-year deal worth $66.5 million, with $30 million guaranteed). But this was a savvy move by Tom Coughlin and Co. that will only further this team’s move into the upper echelon of the AFC.
Loser: Jets and Cardinals have to settle for QBs
Both the New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals were reportedly hot to trot for Kirk Cousins. New York was reportedly willing to give Cousins $60 million in his first year, and the Cardinals were banking on a family member potentially helping lure him to the Arizona desert.
In the end, neither team could do enough to convince Cousins to join. And therefore, both teams had to settle for secondary options, both of which come with some red flags.
Arizona is reportedly bringing in Sam Bradford, who cannot stay healthy, on a one-year deal worth $20 million that includes an option for a second season. Now, this by itself isn’t great. That said, the Cardinals can still come out on top by making a bold move to draft a quarterback this year in the first round, trading up to do it if that is necessary.
The Jets are reportedly bringing in Teddy Bridgewater, who could end up being a huge bargain. But ultimately nobody really knows what to expect from him following the awful knee injury he suffered a couple years back. Not surprisingly, they are also bringing back Josh McCown on a one-year deal, and it’s likely those two will compete this summer for the starting job.
So, there’s a lot of uncertainty with both of these teams — both of which were already in flux — going into the draft. And that’s not ideal.
Winner: John Elway sets Broncos up for future
Denver Broncos fans might be feeling a bit deflated that Case Keenum is headed their way, rather than Kirk Cousins or even Drew Brees. However, taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture it’s clear John Elway’s decision to go with Keenum will pay off in the long run.
First off, let’s consider that the Broncos saved roughly $10 million per season ($18 million per year for Keenum) on a short-term deal with Keenum that will allow Elway to shore up other areas of need. That’s a huge deal.
Secondly, Denver still owns the No. 5 overall pick. With that pick, Elway is in prime position to either draft one of the top quarterbacks this year or trade that pick to a quarterback-needy team (he’s already said he’s open for business) without stressing about a short-term solution at quarterback. Either way, Denver has a chance to be a big winner on draft day.
Loser: Ravens still looking for receivers
The Baltimore Ravens have struggled to provide Joe Flacco with a reliable receiving corps in recent years. And while the team isn’t in great shape financially, there were rumors that the Ravens would be going after Jarvis Landry and other top options this spring. Heck, Jimmy’s Seafood even got in on the recruiting action to try and lure Allen Robinson to Baltimore. Both of those players landed elsewhere.
Then the Ravens predictably fell short trying to lure Jimmy Graham to Baltimore.
So far, this offense is still talent poor at receiver, having watched this year’s top receivers sign elsewhere already. They are reportedly looking into signing former Arizona Cardinals receiver John Brown, but he’s not a tremendous option. Furthermore, given Baltimore’s recent history at picking receivers in the draft, Ravens fans should be a bit worried about their offense right now.
Winner: Mitch Trubisky has weapons
We’ve been critical of Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace in the past. But it really seems like he’s learned from his mistakes, because everything the Bears have done this offseason is rock solid. Signing Matt Nagy to coach the team was a stroke of genius, as he’s exactly what Mitch Trubisky needs to advance from potential star to legit franchise passer.
On top of that, Pace has now provided the young quarterback with some extremely dangerous weapons on offense.
First, the Bears landed the top receiver in this year’s free-agency class in Allen Robinson. He’s joining the Bears on a reported three-year, $42 million contract. His ability to convert in the red zone will do wonders for Trubisky and the Chicago offense. Taylor Gabriel also reportedly agreed to a four-year deal with the Bears. On top of that, Chicago reportedly landed one of the top tight ends in Trey Burton, one of the stars of Super Bowl LII.
This is how you help a young quarterback succeed.
Winner: Bills have a plan, and it’s working
The Buffalo Bills haven’t made any splashy moves to sign big-name free agents. But they’ve made a huge splash with a trade that sets them up for some tremendous opportunities in the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft. Buffalo moved starting left tackle Cordy Glenn to the Cincinnati Bengals, swapping the No. 21 overall pick for No. 12 overall in the process.
This means Buffalo now has the No. 12 and No. 22 overall picks in Round 1, not to mention No. 53, No. 56, No. 65 and No. 96 in the second and third rounds. That’s a ton of capital that they will put into play as they attempt to move up for a quarterback. They’re reportedly looking at moving into the top five this April, and given the fact they have no veteran on the roster capable of serving as a bridge, they’re going all-in on this young passer, whomever he may be.
The Bills won’t likely be contending for the playoffs next season. But they are set up to become a force in the years to come, provided they land that all-important franchise passer. And with Tom Brady still in the AFC East, that’s the best possible strategy anyway.
Loser: Colts haven’t done anything
The Indianapolis Colts have the third-most cap space in the NFL heading into free agency. They also have some huge needs. But to this point, general manager Chris Ballard has done absolutely nothing to upgrade his team.
As we mentioned discussing the Jaguars, Indy was one of the teams heavily pursuing guard Andrew Norwell. That was smart. The Colts desperately need help up front on offense. But instead of landing a key piece, they watched him sign in Jacksonville. On the other side of the ball, another player linked to the Colts, linebacker Anthony Hitchens, is also going elsewhere, signing with the Kansas City Chiefs.
There is still plenty of time to bring in valuable pieces. But so far, it’s hard to say the Colts are making the most out of their chance to improve the roster with all that money.
Winner: Kirk Cousins changed the free-agency game
In hindsight, Kirk Cousins could not have benefited more from the rampant dysfunction in Washington. His old team never did give him a true fair-market contract offer, so he ended up signing franchise tags two years in a row (worth just under $44 million) before hitting free agency this spring.
Now, he’s reportedly landed a fully-guaranteed three-year deal from the Minnesota Vikings that he’ll sign on Wednesday or Thursday. Add it all up and you’re looking at a guy who’s going to haul in just under $128 million guaranteed in five years. That’s unprecedented in the NFL.
It’s hardly surprising that Seattle Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin called Cousins “a hero to all the young players that will follow after him.”
Now that the Vikings have shown Kirk Cousins the money, it’s time for him to show them he’s worth it all. And so the next battle begins.
Winner: Aaron Rodgers about to strike it rich in more than one way
With Cousins landing the fully-guaranteed contract in Minnesota, it’s a given that Aaron Rodgers will demand and receive a contract that’s even bigger. Cousins has set the table for the top-tier quarterbacks like Rodgers and Matt Ryan to land crazy deals, and very soon, especially since Rodgers is in a class by himself in terms of quality.
So he’s about to land a gargantuan contract, which is a huge bonus. On top of that, the Packers made a bold move to sign tight end Jimmy Graham to a three-year deal on Tuesday. That’s an incredible get for rookie general manager Brian Gutekunst, who lived up to his promise about being more aggressive in free agency.
Jordy Nelson had to be released as part of this addition, but as great as he’s been in the past, his best days are clearly behind him. It’s a rough part of the business. In the end, however, the Packers will be more formidable on offense.