As we prepare for the start of NFL free agency, it’s a better time than any to look back at what has already happened during the still-young offseason. More so than in previous years, the early stages of said offseason has been filled with some pretty remarkable moves.
From two Pro Bowl cornerbacks landing on the defending NFC West champion Los Angeles Rams to another elite player at that position joining a rival team, that division has been filled with a ton of surprising moves. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Eagles made a surprising trade of their own fresh off earning the franchise’s first Super Bowl title. And remaining in the NFC East, Washington replaced one Pro Bowl quarterback with another.
These are among the nine most that have surprised us already during the NFL offseason.
Marcus Peters traded for pennies on the dollar
When reports surfaced following the season that Kansas City was looking to trade malcontent Marcus Peters, most figured the team would acquire at least one first-round pick for the two-time Pro Bowler. Here’s a guy that has recorded an average of eight takeaways in his first three NFL seasons. His value was going to be sky-high, right? Not so fast, my friends.
Kansas City ultimately moved the 25-year-old corner and a sixth-round pick to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for a fourth-round pick in 2018 and a second-rounder in 2019. Talk about Rams GM Les Snead and Co. fleecing the Chiefs big time. There were obvious issues with Peters and the Chiefs’ brass. But to sell low on such a talented young player made absolutely no sense.
Jimmy Garoppolo’s massive contract
Seven career starts. That’s the sample size San Francisco had of Garoppolo before handing him a five-year, $137.5 million contract following the 2017 season. We’re talking $74.1 million guaranteed and an NFL-record $27.5 million annually. The 49ers traded a second-round pick for Garoppolo. In retrospect, that seems like an absolute steal. He won all five of his starts as a member of the 49ers — taking a 1-10 team to a 6-10 record and heading into the offseason with the NFL’s longest winning streak.
Even then, the risk is significant here. It’s not too common for a team to be able to land a high-upside potential franchise quarterback in a trade. Garoppolo’s situation represents pretty much the first of its kind in recent league history. San Francisco had to pounce. And things are looking up for the franchise. That doesn’t mean a seven-start sample size isn’t going to bring about some major questions moving forward.
Redskins replace Kirk Cousins with Alex Smith
An argument could definitely be made that Smith’s track record is better than that of Cousins. Here’s a guy that put up 102 touchdowns compared to 33 interceptions in five seasons with the Chiefs. He led the team to the playoffs four times during that span. Meanwhile, Cousins’ numbers in D.C. were at elite levels while he failed to lead the Skins to the playoffs in all but one of his three full seasons as a starter.
The issue here is that Smith is four years older than his counterpart. Washington also gave him a four-year, $94 million extension with $71 million guaranteed while sending a third-round pick and talented young corner Kendall Fuller to Kansas City in the trade. All the while, this team’s brass showed no real interest in committing to a Pro Bowl quarterback in Cousins long term. There’s something fishy about that.
Likely market for A.J. McCarron
With the Browns’ acquisition of Tyrod Taylor, one potential suitor for McCarron has bowed out. This doesn’t mean the career backup is going to find a lackluster market once free agency opens Wednesday. The Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos and Minnesota Vikings could all be in on his services. But why? McCarron has three career starts under his belt in four seasons. He couldn’t beat out a struggling Andy Dalton as the Bengals’ starter. And his sample size is nowhere near as impressive as what we’ve seen from the above-mentioned Garoppolo.
Even if McCarron were to receive a deal similar to the one Mike Glennon got from Chicago last season, it would be a major reach. There’s nothing that suggests he’s a starter-caliber quarterback in the NFL. His tape from Alabama isn’t overly impressive. Despite this, McCarron is likely looking at a contract in the ballpark of $18-plus million annually. That’s a major surprise given exactly what he is and has shown himself to be.
Richard Sherman and the 49ers
If we were to ask insiders around the NFL a few short months ago about the possibility of this all-time Seattle Seahawks great landing with San Francisco, the responses would have been unbridled laughter. Heck, the idea is still foreign to us even after he signed a three-year deal with the team. Sherman is a member of the 49ers, and people simply don’t know how to deal with it.
This makes perfect sense. Sherman spent his seven years in the Pacific Northwest antagonizing and acting as a thorn in the side of the 49ers. He prevented the team from a Super Bowl appearance…more than once. Seattle is the 49ers chief rival. Sherman was the face of that for nearly a decade. Despite this, he’s now going to line up against best bud Doug Baldwin and the Seahawks twice per season. If that’s not surprising, we’re not sure what is. Though, it will definitely bring some popcorn-worthy moments over the next few seasons.
Vikings’ lukewarm interest in Case Keenum
It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that Minnesota will add Kirk Cousins in free agency. The New York Jets and Denver Broncos know this. NFL insiders know this. Heck, we already have some contract details available. That’s fine. Cousins has more than proven himself capable of being a franchise quarterback.
But what about Keenum? Why the cold shoulder? Here’s a guy that led the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game last season. And for some reason, Minnesota’s brass somehow prefers the above-mentioned McCarron over Keenum should it fail to land Cousins. That’s all sorts of ridiculous. And it could lead to buyer’s remorse for a team that doles out $20-plus annually to Keenum. If the Vikings aren’t sold on him after his career-best performance last season, one has to wonder what’s actually happening here.
Michael Bennett to the defending champs
It’s not that Bennett was jettisoned from the Seattle Seahawks. That had been expected since the end of the 2017 season. Instead, it’s all about the fact that he was traded to the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for Seattle moving up from the seventh round to the fifth round in April’s draft. That’s pennies on the dollar for a veteran defensive end that’s earned three consecutive Pro Bowl appearances and remains one of the most consistent pass rushers in the game.
From an Eagles perspective, this is also pretty darn surprising. Even after moving Torrey Smith and his semi-expensive contract, Philadelphia is currently nearly $11 million over the cap. It needs to get down to the $177 million figure by the start of free agency Wednesday. This has led to speculation that Vinny Curry could be on the chopping block. Heck, the Eagles might be forced to dump leading sack-getter Brandon Graham. Bennett’s $6.7 million cap hit has played a role in this.
Rams triple down at cornerback
If getting Marcus Peters wasn’t enough, the defending NFC West champions doubled down with another Pro Bowler in the form of Aqib Talib in a trade with the Denver Broncos. In the process, Los Angeles yielded just a fifth-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Talk about GM Les Snead and Co. doing everything possible for defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. Oh, and this doesn’t even count the Rams signing former Green Bay Packers cornerback Sam Shields after he sat out a full season.
It’s pretty darn clear that Los Angeles is going for it right now. These three moves prove that to a T. In an NFC West where it’s looking like the up-and-coming 49ers will be Los Angeles’ primary competition moving forward, it makes all the sense in the world. It’s also going to be very interesting to see how the early stages of free agency plays out for this squad.
The Browns seem actually well-run
We can argue that yielding the first pick in the third round for a quarterback in Tyrod Taylor who was going to be released by Buffalo is pretty darn steep. We can also conclude that expecting Jarvis Landry to live up to his franchise tag cost after being acquired from Miami makes very little sense. That’s fine. It’s what debating the merits of trades is all about in an NFL that’s seen trades become more prevalent in recent years.
What we do know is that first-year general manager John Dorsey is running the ship in Cleveland. Given that the Browns went for Taylor over A.J. McCarron, that’s rather obvious. It also tells us a story of a franchise that might actually be turning the corner after winning a grand total of one game over the past two seasons. And while false hope has been the name of the game in Cleveland over the past two decades, the expectation has to be that this new-found hope is real.