The NFL announced on Sunday its decision to hold free agency on time to let teams start making moves and deals to start happening. If the first day of the NFL tampering period is any indication of what’s to come this offseason, fans will get to enjoy a wild offseason unfold in the weeks to come.
It all started on Monday morning with 14 NFL teams using the franchise tag and one team using the transition tag, moves we ranked from best to worst. While it prevented 15 big names from hitting free agency, the possibility still exists for players like Chris Jones, Anthony Harris and Yannick Ngakoue to be moved later this offseason in sign-and-trade deals.
While trades and free-agent signings aren’t official until Wednesday, we still saw plenty of movement across the NFL with big trades and signings. Here are the five best and worst moves from the NFL’s wild action on Monday.
Best: Arizona Cardinals land DeAndre Hopkins
There’s always that defining moment for an NFL team that helps pivot it from mediocrity toward greatness. The moment the Cardinals acquired DeAndre Hopkins, this offense was boarding a rocketship toward greatness. Arizona came out like bandits in the blockbuster deal. The acquisition itself is a fantastic addition, but its significance and the impact goes beyond just Hopkins.
Most importantly, the Cardinals can now draft a top offensive tackle with the No. 8 overall selection. Whether it’s Tristan Wirfs, Jedrick Willis or Andrew Thomas, Arizona can land a pillar to plug in at right tackle. Factor that into an offense that will have a dynamic No. 1 receiver, allowing Christian Kirk to serve in a complementary role, it’s obvious why the Cardinals will take flight in 2020.
Worst: Dolphins waste cap space on Ereck Flowers
This is the offseason the Dolphins spent more than a year preparing for. Trading away young, impact talent for draft picks and tearing the roster down to its foundation, Miami was poised to make monumental moves this offseason. Unfortunately for the fans, the front office proved why disappointment is a familiar feeling and that it might remain a theme throughout the offseason.
There’s no legitimate rationale for awarding Flowers a three-year, $30 million contract. A move from offensive tackle to guard certainly helped him, but even then, he was just an average talent this past season. He’s now being paid like a top-10 guard and it can’t even be argued that he took a discount to return home to Miami. While he will technically be an upgrade along the offensive line, this is simply an awful decision.
Best: Ravens acquire a second-round pick for Hayden Hurst
If general manager Eric DeCosta stopped making moves after acquiring Calais Campbell, the Ravens would have been winners this offseason. Baltimore kept exploring the market, shopping its No. 2 tight end Hayden Hurst. A first-round pick in 2018, Hurst attracted plenty of interest and Baltimore took advantage by landing the No. 55 pick from the Atlanta Falcons.
At the very least, the Ravens will head into the 2020 NFL Draft with three top-60 selections. In a draft class that is deep at wide receiver, this team is in a perfect position to strengthen the defense and provide Lamar Jackson with more weapons. Of course, it can also use one of its second-round picks to address the offensive line, too. Keep in mind, DeCosta will almost certainly flip Matthew Judon in a sign-and-trade after hitting him with the franchise tag. The Ravens are one of the NFL’s best teams at finding talent in the draft and they’ll prove it in 2020.
Worst: Browns overpay Austin Hooper
When the Chargers placed the franchise tag on Hunter Henry, it meant Christmas Day came early for Hooper and his family. In a year with a weak draft class at tight end and with Hooper the best free-agent option available, he was going to get a massive deal. Sure enough, the Browns made him the NFL’s highest-paid tight end.
It’s not that Hooper is a bad player. He attracted significant interest around the NFL and will be another nice weapon for Baker Mayfield. However, he isn’t a top-five tight end in the NFL and he’s now going to make more than Henry, Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz and George Kittle. Meanwhile, the Browns already have David Njoku on the roster. Andrew Berry made some nice moves in his first day of the NFL tampering period, but this signing seems destined to backfire.
Best: 49ers, Colts pull off win-win blockbuster deal
It’s rare to see a win-win blockbuster trade go down in any sport. Typically, a deal always seems to strongly favor one team much more than the other. The mega-deal that sent second-team All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts with the No. 13 pick headed to the San Francisco 49ers was not one of those.
The Colts are in win-now mode with Philip Rivers in their sights and more cap space to upgrade the defense. While general manager Chris Ballard might miss the No. 13 pick, he added a disruptive force to his defensive line and will still have two second-round picks. Meanwhile, the 49ers deal from a luxury position of depth along the defensive line to acquire a major asset. It opens up all kinds of possibilities for the front office.
Worst: Bill O’Brien choosing his own interests over Deshaun Watson’s
O’Brien has received plenty of deserved criticism during his time in Houston. From baffling in-game decisions to laughable trades in which he gave away players who challenged him, the 50-year-old coach has provided more reasons to doubt him than wins on his resume. Yet, he somehow obtained more power in the organization and that came with far more disastrous consequences on Monday.
Hopkins was Deshaun Watson’s top receiver and the pair had an unmatched rapport. But, because Hopkins also reportedly challenged O’Brien on the sidelines, the All-Pro receiver is on his way out. It’s a baffling decision for a coach-general manager to put his own interests ahead of the organization and franchise quarterback. Even worse, essentially giving away a star talent for a second-round pick and an overpriced running back.
Best: Packers find value in the bargain bin
While plenty of teams struck quickly to sign top free-agent talent on Monday, the Packers went shopping in the bargain bin. Green Bay needed to find help at inside linebacker and right tackle this offseason, that’s exactly what general manager Brian Gutekunst found on Monday.
The Packers reunited Mike Pettine with inside linebacker Christian Kirksey. While a two-year, $16 million deal seems expensive for an oft-injured linebacker, the structure of the contract is team-friendly. Kirksey will help Green Bay’s run defense, while offensive tackle Rick Wagner provides insurance on the right side if the team doesn’t draft a tackle with the 30th pick. While the moves signal the end for Bryan Bulaga and linebacker Blake Martinez in Green Bay, the Packers could potentially get third-round compensation picks for them in 2021. Never sleep on the bargain bin for good discounts.
Worst: Lions overpay another offensive tackle
The Lions signed Rick Wagner early in the 2017 season to a massive five-year contract, overpaying at a time when there were few other options available. Three years later, Detroit cut Wagner this offseason and gave out another huge five-year deal to an offensive tackle.
Overpaying for unproven or average talent seems to be a tradition for the Lions. Giving a $50 million contract to Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who has started 20 games since being drafted in 2016, seems like a massive risk. It’s even more questionable since he hasn’t looked particularly great in limited action. In a market with Jack Conklin and Bryan Bulaga available, the Lions took a far bigger gamble on a player that cost them nearly as much as a Pro Bowl right tackle would have.