Top Takeaways from NFL free agency thus far

Tom Brady
Jan 4, 2020; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) during his press conference following their playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

As the rest of the sports world shuts down, the NFL has had itself one heck of a busy past three days. Starting with the legal tampering period on Monday and continuing through the start of the new league year, so much has gone down.

Future Hall of Famers in that of Tom Brady and Jason Witten left their longtime homes for new cities. Meanwhile, a multitude of blockbuster trades have gone down. None were more important than the Buffalo Bills acquiring star receiver Stefon Diggs from the Minnesota Vikings.

As free agency dries up to an extent, let’s look back at the past three days. Here are the top 10 takeaways from the start of the 2020 NFL calendar.

Bills stand above Patriots in AFC East

The focus here will obviously be on Tom Brady’s decision to leave the New England Patriots after two decades with the team. However, Buffalo’s moves over the past several days lends credence to the idea that this team now stands above New England in the AFC East.

The blockbuster acquisition of star wide receiver Stefon Diggs will only help young quarterback Josh Allen in his continued development. On the defensive side of the ball, Buffalo added linemen Mario Addison, Quinton Jefferson and Vernon Butler to the mix. Three underrated veterans with varying levels of production at different positions. Following a tremendously successful 2019 season, Buffalo now has to be considered odds-on favorites to win the AFC East.

Colts find major upgrades at expensive cost

Indianapolis shocked the football world earlier this week when the team dealt its first-round pick (13th overall) to the San Francisco 49ers for All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. The Colts then made him the second highest-paid interior lineman in the NFL behind Aaron Donald. Buckner, 26, is among the most-talented defensive tackles in the NFL and is going to help Indy out big time.

However, it’s the signing of eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers that must be the focus here. Rivers, 38, inked a one-year, $25 million contract. He replaces an ineffective Jacoby Brissett under center. It’s clear that general manager Chris Ballard and Co. are going all in for the 2020 season. Whether that pans out remains to be seen.

Cowboys retain stars, lose depth

Dallas’ decision to hand star receiver Amari Cooper a five-year, $100 million contract came after it placed the exclusive franchise tag on quarterback Dak Prescott. All told, the Cowboys are paying their triplets a combined $67 million on an annual basis. That includes Ezekiel Elliott’s record-breaking deal.

In what can’t be considered a surprise, this means that the Cowboys have struggled to maintain a deep roster. They lost tight end Jason Witten as well as defenders Maliek Collins and Jeff Heath to the Las Vegas Raiders. Joining those three out of town, the Cowboys also lost Pro Bowl cornerback Byron Jones and edge rusher Robert Quinn. While Dallas did pick up Gerald McCoy, this could have a major impact on the team’s success moving forward.

Tom Brady’s shocking decision

It’s not a surprise that Brady moved on from the Patriots after two decades. Things seemed to be trending in that direction for a while. It is, however, shocking that he opted to sign with the long-downtrodden Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The match makes sense. Brady is in a better position than if he had decided to re-sign with New England.

Even then, this move shakes up the foundation of the NFC moving forward. Tampa Bay now has to be seen as the primary threat to the New Orleans Saints’ stranglehold on the NFC South. It can also be seen as a legit conference title contender.

Giants overpay in massive ways

As most who have closely followed his career know, Giants general manager Dave Gettleman continues to struggle with the basic elements of running a front office. Signing former Packers linebacker Blake Martinez to a three-year, $30.75 million contract is a prime example of this. Martinez has been a borderline starter throughout his career. Nothing more.

New York also overpaid for a pretty good corner in that of James Bradberry primarily due to his relationship with Getttleman dating back to their days with the Panthers. If that weren’t enough, the Giants signed edge rusher Kyler Fackrell to a $4.6 million deal for one year. All he did last season was record a single sack with Green Bay. It’s just ugly in Jersey right now.

Bill O’Brien is clueless

I am not too sure what to even say about the Texans’ decision to trade star receiver DeAndre Hopkins for pennies on the dollar. Houston picked up veteran running back David Johnson and a mere second-round pick as the centerpieces of the deal.

Hopkins, 27, is averaging 100 receptions for north of 1,300 yards over the past five seasons. He’s legitimately one of the most-productive pass catchers in modern NFL history. If that weren’t enough, Houston replaced him with a regressing veteran in that of Randall Cobb on a ridiculous three-year, $27 million contract. O’Brien the head coach has come under criticism. He’s now dropping the ball as the Texans’ general manager, too.

Once again, Lions fail free agency

I have no idea what to even make of Detroit’s decision to hand veteran offensive tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai to a five-year, $45 million contract. The dude started a grand total of 20 games in four seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles.

It didn’t get much better for general manager Bob Quinn and Co. from there. Detroit handed former New England Patriots standout linebacker Jamie Collins a three-year, $30 million contract. He’s proven to be a product of the Patriots’ scheme more than anything else. After all, Collins failed miserably as a member of the Cleveland Browns from 2017-18. Detroit’s false hope of short-term contention is as foolish as all get out. These two moves magnify that to a T.

Raiders go value over quality

Las Vegas had a ton of cash to spend in free agency. It was linked to new Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady on a near never-ending loops. Instead, Jon Gruden and Co. added former No. 2 overall pick Marcus Mariota to compete with Derek Carr under center. Mariota, 26, has been a dud in recent seasons. He has accounted for 31 passing touchdowns and 25 interceptions since the start of the 2017 campaign.

The Raiders also added an over-the-hill Jason Witten on a one-year deal that could pay him nearly $5 million. That comes with the team already boasting an elite tight end in that of Darren Waller. Defensively, Las Vegas also went with quantity by adding linebacker Cory Littleton, cornerback Eli Apple and edge rusher Carl Nassib. Time will tell whether this plan is going to pan out.

Running backs waiting in line

Only one major big-name running back has signed a deal thus far in free agency. That came in the form of former Pro Bowler Jordan Howard inking a two-year, $10 million contract with the Miami Dolphins. Others are having to wait as players at this position are met with a bare market.

This list includes Devonta Freeman, LeSean McCoy, Carlos Hyde, Melvin Gordon and Frank Gore. Talk about some major talent left on the market after the first few days of free agency. Outside of maybe Gordon, the expectation here is that these veterans might have to wait until after the draft to latch on with a team.

49ers still class of the NFC

While the New York Giants and Detroit Lions are out here spending money like they’re about to win the off-season title, the defending NFC champs are just going about business. San Francisco might have downgraded on defense by trading DeForest Buckner, but it picked up the 13th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft in exchange for him. The possibilities with that pick are endless.

General manager John Lynch also did a tremendous job retaining core players. San Francisco re-signed defensive tackle Arik Armstead and safety Jimmie Ward on far below market value deals. They are also likely keeping young skill position players, running back Matt Breida and wide receiver Kendrick Bourne, at less than a $7 million combined cap hit for the 2020 season. Despite Tom Brady heading to Tampa, Arizona’s move to acquire DeAndre Hopkins and the Green Bay Packers remaining relevant, these 49ers are still the class of the NFC.