Top 10 takeaways from Thursday’s NFL free agency frenzy

Dan Powers-USA TODAY Sports

Day 1 of NFL free agency was filled with cash being thrown around like it was Monopoly money. The Cleveland Browns practically bought a second-round pick from the Houston Texans in order to take on the horrible contract of one Brock Osweiler.

Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Eagles exhausted whatever capital they had under the salary cap to add two dynamic receiving threats for young quarterback Carson Wentz. All the while, the Jacksonville Jaguars — NFL’s Super Bowl winner for the month of March — added a top-end corner to go with youngster Jalen Ramsey.

When the dust settled Thursday night, the NFL world itself had changed forever. A franchise quarterback in D.C. might be pushing his way out of town. A potential future Hall of Famer in the Lone Star state said his goodbyes. And the quarterback carousel continued to spin.

These are among our top-10 takeaways from the first day of NFL free agency.

Browns buy a second-round pick from the Texans

Brock Osweiler was one of the biggest NFL free agency misses from last year

A football team ran by a baseball man making a basketball trade. That’s pretty much what the Cleveland Browns did on Thursday when they acquired free-agent bust Brock Osweiler from the Houston Texans.

The first thought that comes to mind here is that this is just the Browns being the Browns. Pick up another team’s trash — trash that’s paid like gold. Do so while there are other quarterback options out on the market. That’s all fine and dandy, but what the Browns did here was just tremendous.

Flush with well north of $100 million to spend in free agency, Cleveland wasn’t going to exhaust all that capital this month. Free agents are not lining up to sign with a one-win team. And overpaying for veterans over the long term doesn’t make sense.

Instead, Cleveland used some of this financial capital to pick up a second-round pick from the Texans. You read that right. They acquired potential stopgap starting quarterback and a valuable second rounder in 2018 for pretty much nothing. It was a salary dump for the Texans in every sense of the word. And Cleveland benefited a great deal (more on that here).

While some will surely make fun of the Browns for picking up a quarterback that was benched for Tom Savage last season, this is a brilliant long-term move. It’s a trade that if the New England Patriots made it, we would be singing their praise.

Sure, Osweiler will be a high-paid bust for the 2017 season. A total of a $16 million cap hit to be exact. But after that, Cleveland owes him absolutely zero cash in guaranteed money. It can get out from under the deal for nothing against the cap. At that point, the Browns will be flush with three second-round picks in 2018.

This came on the same day that Cleveland was able to add guard Kevin Zeitler from the division-rival Cincinnati Bengals and wide receiver Kenny Britt from the Los Angeles Rams. We can question the direction of this franchise all we want, but Thursday was surely a good day for the Browns.

Trying to figure out Jimmy Garoppolo’s situation isn’t easy

One would expect the defending champion New England Patriots to jump at the idea of trading their backup quarterback for the 12th pick in the upcoming draft. After all, Garoppolo is set to become a free agent following next season and five-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady wants to play for the foreseeable future.

Unfortunately for teams looking to acquire the talented youngster, it appears that New England is looking for the mountaintop (a gold-plated mountaintop) in return for Garoppolo.

It was reported on Thursday that New England will demand the first overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft from Cleveland in trade discussions for Garoppolo. That’s an absurd asking price, one that likely won’t be met.

So are the Patriots overplaying their hand here? Maybe they’re waiting until the quarterback dominoes fall before really engaging in trade talks. Either way, the sooner we get to the 2017 season, the less leverage New England will have here.

It simply can’t lose Garoppolo for free next March after being offered a huge bounty for his services. On the same note, wouldn’t it be foolish for the Pats to place the franchise tag on Garoppolo? That would guarantee him north of $25 million to back Brady up.

We’re not one of those who will question a team that’s been as successful as the Patriots. Heck, maybe Cleveland will hand over the No. 1 overall pick for Garoppolo. Still, it seems ridiculous that the team is holding out for this much in return.

Eagles give Carson Wentz some weapons

It didn’t take too long before free agency started before Philadelphia decided that enough was enough. It was bound to add some play-making ability to go with young quarterback Carson Wentz on offense. This is simply something the team did not have last season with both Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor struggling to do anything of substance.

It started with Philadelphia reportedly signing recently released former San Francisco 49ers receiver Torrey Smith to a three-year, $15 million contract. Smith, 28, was an absolute bust in San Francisco, recording a combined 53 catches and a 48 percent reception rate in two seasons with the team.

Though, a lot of that had to do with a lackluster quarterback play in San Francisco. Smith still found a way to lead the NFL with an average of 20.1 yards per reception back in 2015. He should benefit from the strong-armed Wentz under center in Philadelphia.

That’s not necessarily the biggest news for the day for fans in the City of Brotherly Love. Philadelphia shocked the football world by signing former Chicago Bears Pro Bowl receiver Alshon Jeffery to a one-year, $14 million contract. It’s not as much that the Eagles added Jeffery to the mix. They have long been connected to him. Instead, it’s that they were able to pretty much get him on a prove-it deal.

Much like Smith, Jeffery was a victim of bad quarterback play in Chicago over the past couple seasons. He’s also coming off a 2016 campaign in which the receiver was suspended four games for violating the NFL’s PED policy.

With that said, Jeffery remains one of the most-talented pass catchers in the entire NFL. He accounted for over 2,500 receiving yards in 2013 and 2014 combined. With a 6-foot-4, 230-pound frame, the 27-year-old receiver will provide Wentz with that big bodied target he was missing as a rookie last season.

These are two huge moves for an Eagles team that finished last season losing nine of its past 13 games after a 4-0 start. Howie Roseman and Co. targeted specific needs — coming away with two key contributors for Wentz in the process.

Broncos fortify the trenches 

While most of the talk surrounding Denver has involved the possibility of landing Tony Romo, general manager John Elway and Co. were busy adding to the trenches.

The team signed underrated guard Ronald Leary to a four-year, $35 million contract. Leary was left expendable by the Dallas Cowboys due to the emergence of La’el Collins. Though, he’s been a dominating performer when on the field over the past couple seasons. It’s a major upgrade for a Broncos team that was left relying on Max Garcia at left guard last season.

This doesn’t seem to be a huge move on the Broncos’ part, but it suggests that they were not solely honing in on Tony Romo as free agency started. Coming off a disappointing 2016 campaign, Denver knows it has a bunch of holes to fill. Leary is a major upgrade at an area of need.

We’re not sure where the Broncos are going at quarterback. They could very well stay in house. Romo remains a possibility. But what we do know is that the team spent the first day of free agency adding elite-level talent to its line. That’s big time right there.

Jaguars building strong foundation at cornerback

A.J. Bouye

Following a tremendous rookie season from Jalen Ramsey, the Jacksonville Jaguars decided to double down at the all-important cornerback position. The team signed standout young defensive back A.J. Bouye away from the Houston Texans on the first day of free agency.

Bouye, a former undrafted free agent from Central Florida was absolutely dominant for Houston last season. The 25-year-old corner put up 62 tackles, 16 passes defended and an interception while yielding a sub 60 percent completion mark. According to Pro Football Focus, he also finished as the third-best cover guy in the entire NFL.

Teaming Bouye up with Ramsey forms one of the top corner tandems in the NFL. Ramsey, a top-five pick last year, recorded 65 tackles and 14 passes defended as a rookie. He has Pro Bowl written all over him moving forward.

While it’s important to note that the Jaguars have had mediocre success on the free-agent market in the past, Bouye could very well be an exception. He’s coming off his rookie contract and still hasn’t hit his prime. It’s much different than aiming for 30-year-old veterans who are on the downswing of their careers.

Bengals Lose two starting offensive linemen, running back not happy

The Cincinnati Bengals are a notoriously cheap organization. They have been able to mask this for the past near decade because of stellar drafts during that span. But the team’s unwillingness to spend top dollar on its free agents has come back to haunt it time and time again.

Fresh off a 2016 season that saw Cincinnati miss out on the playoffs for the first time in six years, the Bengals are going backwards.

That was only magnified on the first day of free agency when Cincinnati lost starting left tackle Andrew Whitworth and Pro Bowl-caliber guard Kevin Zeitler to other teams.

Whitworth signed a three-year, $36 million deal with the Los Angeles Rams, fortifying their protection in front of youngster Jared Goff. Meanwhile, Zeitler earned an absurd contract from the division-rival Cleveland Browns.

To be clear, it would have cost the Bengals a ton to retain these two players. They also exhausted capital on the offensive line during the 2015 NFL Draft, adding Cedric Ogbuehi and Eric Fisher to the mix in the first two rounds.

Even then, losing two high-caliber starters for nothing in return has to hurt. It definitely hurts Bengals running backs, as evidenced by this tweet from Giovani Bernard immediately after Zeitler’s departure was reported.

With Baltimore and Cleveland still struggling to do anything of real substance in terms of catching up with the talent Pittsburgh boasts, Cincinnati might still be in a decent position in the AFC North. But this team has taken a step back recently. It started during a six-win 2016 season and continued on the first day of free agency.

Redskins are a dumpster fire, might be forced to trade Kirk Cousins

Here’s how this situation has played out thus far. Cousins does not want to be on the Washington Redskins. He has told Redskins owner Daniel Snyder just this. Top front office executive Bruce Allen asked for a cooling off period before Cousins sticks to this tone. Cousins remains steadfast. He wants to be traded to the San Francisco 49ers. Snyder himself is holding a grudge against new 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan dating back to their time together in D.C.

If Cousins indeed only wants to play for San Francisco, he holds a whole bunch of leverage here. Already given the exclusive-rights franchise tag, Cousins could refuse to sign it if he’s not traded. In turn, this puts San Francisco in a position of strength when it comes to trade talks.

Kirk Cousins' future in Washington is up in the air

Unfortunately for those looking at a potential Shanahan-Cousins reunion in Northern California, the quarterback could very well be on the verge of signing his franchise tag. That would seemingly take any leverage away from him and place it right on the Redskins’ lap. Then again, the Redskins themselves can’t trade a player that’s not under contract — meaning Cousins would have to sign the tender before being dealt.

Caught up, yet?

San Francisco added Brian Hoyer to the mix recently on a two-year contract. The team is unlikely to contend for a playoff spot in 2017. It can simply play out the upcoming season and potentially sign Cousins next March without giving up compensation to the Redskins.

Yeah, this is a complete and utter mess for those in Washington. Would they really sit back and allow Cousins to either hold out into the season or continue to show his unhappiness while suiting up for the team in 2017?

Cousins is a quarterback. He’s the team captain. If those other 52 members of the Redskins know he wants to be in San Francisco, we’re looking at a potential dumpster fire of epic proportions within the locker room.

A more broad point also needs to be made here. Washington fired GM Scot McCloughan on Thursday, throwing out leaks about him potentially falling off the wagon in the process. It was met with widespread criticism the football world over, with most of those tied to the situation siding with the team’s former top personnel man.

To summarize. Washington lost its two starting receivers. Its Pro Bowl quarterback wants to play for a different tint of red. The Redskins threw their former GM under the bus immediately after firing him. And the team itself is in horrible shape from a roster standpoint. Good times in D.C., indeed.

Patriots not happy with status quo 

Leave it to a Patriots team that’s coming off a 14-win regular season and another Lombardi to change things up. It started on Wednesday when New England acquired tight end Dwayne Allen from Indianapolis for pennies on the dollar. That move led to Martellus Bennett saying his goodbyes to fans in New England. This, after Bennett was a huge part of the team’s success last season

Then, just as free agency was getting going on Thursday, New England inked former Buffalo Bills first-round pick Stephon Gilmore to a huge contract worth $40 million in guaranteed cash. It’s a move that led to speculation that New England might trade fellow cornerback and Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler to New Orleans for Brandin Cooks (more on that here).

In no way did the news stop here. Just as the Browns were busy collecting more draft capital while adding Brock Osweiler to the mix, another report surfaced that New England was demanding the No. 1 overall pick for backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Talk about being busy on pretty much every front.

Did New England improve on the first day of free agency? Surely. As of right now, both Butler and Gilmore are under contract. They also added an upgrade in terms of blocking in the form of the aforementioned Allen. All the while, New England continues to take calls for a backup quarterback with two career starts under his belt. That’s just impressive stuff right there.

As Tony Romo says goodbye, hurdles remain

Tony Romo

Free agency around the NFL started with it being a foregone conclusion that Dallas would release Romo. That came to a crashing end when reports surfaced that the Cowboys were in fact looking to trade Romo, presumably to either the Texans or Broncos.

Then, as the morning turned into afternoon, a whole heck of a lot of other things happened that seemed to really place into question what is going on here.

First off, Denver spent a huge bounty of cash on guard Ronald Leary. That seemed to suggest that general manager John Elway and Co. might not have the cash to acquire Romo, even if he were released outright.

On another front, Houston saved $10 million in cap room and cleared up a spot on its roster by sending Brock Osweiler to Cleveland. At that point, all signs seemed to be pointing to Romo remaining in Texas and vying for a Lombardi with the Texans.

As all of this was going on, Romo himself posted a goodbye video to Cowboys fans, clearly a culmination of his career with the team. Meanwhile, reports surfaced that Houston itself might not be interested in Romo after all.

What’s the moral of the story here? Simply put, we’re no closer to finding out a conclusion to this whole drama than we were two months ago. Romo wants to play for a contender. One of those contenders might have eliminated that possibility while another seemingly created room for the former Pro Bowler — room it might decide against using to land him.

The only real hope here is that Romo doesn’t have to play out the remainder of his career with a bottom-feeding franchise like the New York Jets or Cleveland Browns. He deserves better.

Running backs having a tough go at it

It’s nice that Adrian Peterson is willing to play the process out and show some patience. After all, there’s really no interest in his services as the top-tier of free agents find new landing spots. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone outside of Peterson’s camp. Here’s a soon-to-be 32-year-old running back who is coming off a serious knee injury and has played a grand total of 20 games since the end of the 2013 season. To say he’s not going to hit the ground running in free agency would be an understatement.

But it’s not just this future Hall of Fame running back that’s finding a less-than-stellar market for his services. Sure, Jamaal Charles has been linked to Philadelphia and Seattle recently. But he’s yet to set up a meeting with another team after being released by Kansas City. New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount hasn’t received any real interest as of yet. And while Eddie Lacy has two meetings set up, it’s hard to imagine him receiving much more than the veteran minimum on a new deal.

That’s the crux of the situation for running backs right now. Teams know that this position is absolutely stacked when it comes to the 2017 NFL Draft. They know it’s possible, if not likely, to get cheaper and younger at running back. Even with cash being thrown around at a record clip, there’s simply not much of a market for running backs in free agency. Such is the nature of the beast in what has become a pass-first NFL.