Well, that escalated quickly. If one wasn’t paying attention, he/she might have figured NFL free agency started early Tuesday morning. And by the end of business on Tuesday, pretty much every big-name free agent had reportedly agreed to contracts that can’t be made official until Wednesday.
Kirk Cousins is about to completely overhaul quarterback contracts as we know them. Case Keenum is apparently headed to play football at Mile High. New Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst wasn’t lying when he said the team would be more active in free agency. Though, that also came with a major caveat on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the New York Jets sought out to upgrade their talent level in a big way — potentially changing the entire dynamic of the 2018 NFL Draft in the process. If that weren’t enough, some overrated corners landed absolutely huge contracts.
These are among the top takeaways from the NFL tampering period thus far.
Drew Brees takes care of the Saints
There was some drama surrounding the entire Drew Brees situation on Monday. Would he ink a new deal with the Saints before his contract was set to void on Wednesday? Would he seriously take calls from other teams interested in his services? Well, those two questions were answered in a big way Tuesday morning. Not only did Brees sign a new deal with the Saints, he gave the team a huge hometown discount (more on that here).
All said, Bree’s new contract comes in at just $25 million annually for two years. With it previously being reported that he was demanding less cash than Jimmy Garoppolo per season, Brees was obviously good on his word here. He’s now the fourth highest-paid quarterback in terms of average salary in the NFL. That’s well below market value. And it tells us a story of a player in Brees who is all in about winning. Good for him.
Jaguars get a whole heck of a lot better
The defending AFC South champs might have paid starting left tackle money for an All-Pro guard, but it filled an area of utmost need. Pro Football Focus graded Andrew Norwell out as the third-best guard in the NFL last season. He’s an absolute mauler in the trenches and will do wonders for young running back Leonard Fournette.
Sure, losing Allen Robinson in free agency will hurt Blake Bortles and the Jaguars’ offense. But retaining him at $14 million per season while ignoring a major hole at guard seemingly made little sense. Instead, Jacksonville doles out the second-largest annual contract for an offensive lineman in the NFL. The price might have been hefty, but Doug Marrone and Co. got a whole lot better here. The team also re-signed wide receiver Marqise Lee while adding fellow pass catcher Donte Moncrief on what are seemingly affordable deals. Not too shabby, Tom Coughlin and Co.
Packers’ shocking day
It started with reports that the Packers are going to sign Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham to a three-year contract once free agency opens on Wednesday. This falls in line with what new general manager Brian Gutekunst said about the team being more proactive in free agency. Adding someone of Graham’s ilk and red-zone prowess is going to be absolutely huge for former MVP Aaron Rodgers.
Though, it’s the news that broke shortly after the Graham signing that shocked football fans the world over. In order to make room for the tight end under their cap, the Packers released long-time wide receiver Jordy Nelson. We’re not yet sure how this was met by players in Green Bay, but Mr. Rodgers himself might have something to say about the move. If that weren’t enough, Green Bay went out there and committed to signing former New York Jets Pro Bowl defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson.
It’s definitely a change in dynamic for the Packers’ front office. No longer is this team going to be simply building solely through the draft. It’s going to be as active as possible in free agency. With an exception of Nelson’s release, this has to be music to the ears of Aaron Rodgers.
Low-key great move for the 49ers
Linked as one of the teams heavily interested in Andrew Norwell, the up-and-coming 49ers decided against paying him top dollar. We can question that all we want given the excess of cap room the 49ers have, even after extending Jimmy Garoppolo and signing Richard Sherman. It’s a fair question. Why not add one of the top interior lineman in the game to help protect their franchise quarterback?
Even then, San Francisco went with likely the second-best option on the open market by signing former New York Giants center Weston Richburg to a five-year contract. Prior to missing all but four games last season to injury, this former second-round pick was among the best centers in the entire NFL. It’s a position that has proven to be vital to success in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Remember, his former Falcons offense took that next step once it acquired Alex Mack. Expect Richburg to be the same type of difference-maker for a talented young 49ers squad.
Broncos finally have a plan at quarterback
After two years of brutality under center and major failures by GM John Elway, the Broncos finally have a plan at quarterback. It includes the team signing former Minnesota Vikings starter Case Keenum after losing out on the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes. Keenum is a dramatic upgrade over the trio of quarterbacks — Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and Brock Osweiler — the Broncos threw out there last season.
Depending on the details of said contract, this doesn’t mean that Denver isn’t going to spend the No. 5 overall pick on a quarterback of the future. That’s seemingly been the plan all along. Whether it comes to fruition and Elway bites the bullet after exhausting a first-rounder on Lynch back in 2016 remains to be seen. But at the very least, the Broncos have a stable starter under center. That’s not a bad thing.
Mitch Trubisky’s weapons in Chicago
It’s pretty clear that the Bears hit free agency with the idea of adding weapons for this young quarterback. With a new offensive-minded head coach in Matt Nagy, it made perfect sense for Chicago to hit the market big time. And that’s exactly what GM Ryan Pace and Co. did.
The team signed former Pro Bowl receiver Allen Robinson to a four-year, $56 million deal and doubled down on the skill positions with Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl hero, tight end Trey Burton, as well as veteran pass catcher Taylor Gabriel. That’s $100-plus million in cold-hard cash for three immediate starters. Robinson himself averaged 76 receptions for 1,142 yards and 10 touchdown between 2015 and 2016 prior to missing all but one game last year to a torn ACL. For his part, Burton broke out big time for the Eagles last season. These are moves the Bears needed to make. Trubisky now has the weapons he needs to progress as a sophomore next season.
Arizona Cardinals seemingly odd team out
We get that the Cardinals had to make a play for a quarterback. The team headed into Tuesday without a single signal caller under contract. After missing out on both Case Keenum and Kirk Cousins, the pickings were slim. But to hand a one-year, $20 million with $15 million guaranteed to Sam Bradford seems to be a bit steep. Here’s a guy that’s dealing with a degenerative knee issue and missed all but two games last season to injury. He’s among the least-mobile quarterbacks in the league and will be working behind an offensive line that yielded north of 50 sacks last season.
The Bradford signing also seems to indicate that Arizona will look quarterback in the first round of April’s draft. The issue here is that Buffalo just moved up from the 21st pick pick to 12th overall in the Cordy Glenn trade with Cincinnati. This now means that five teams selecting before Arizona at 15th overall are in need of a quarterback. Coincidentally, there are five quarterbacks seen as potential first-round picks heading into the 2018 NFL Draft. Does this mean a potential trade-up is in the cards for Arizona? Only time will tell.
Titans overpay to emulate Patriots
A year after signing former New England Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan to a three-year, $30 million deal, Tennessee is going back to the well once again. The team will reportedly sign Malcolm Butler to an absurd five-year, $61 million contract once free agency opens on Wednesday. This comes on the heels of Butler being benched for the Patriots’ Super Bowl game against Philadelphia. It also comes after the veteran defensive back yielded a passer rating of north of 100 this past season.
The expectation all along was that Butler would sign a one-year, prove-it deal in free agency. Instead, he gets a deal that’s valued at $12.2 million per season — the 10th-highest figure for a corner in the NFL. To be clear: Butler had played at a Pro Bowl level in the two seasons leading up to the 2017 campaign. But coming off a down season, no one expected him to receive north of $12 million annually. Add in the fact that Tennessee has a talented young corner in Adoree’ Jackson, and this money could have been used to upgrade other parts of the roster.
Tennessee then went out there and made Dion Lewis one of the 10 highest-paid running backs in the NFL. Sure Lewis put up north of 1,100 total yards at a clip of 5.5 yards per run for New England last season. That’s great. He also failed to put up as much as 64 rush attempts in each of his first four NFL seasons. There’s a risk to this. A tremendous risk.
Kirk Cousins completely changes free agency
The NFLPA and its members have to be doing cartwheels upon learning of the Cousins’ contract details. He’s reportedly set to sign a three-year, $84 million contract with the Minnesota Vikings, all guaranteed. It will be the first fully guaranteed multi-year deal for a quarterback in NFL history. And it sets a major precedent for those looking at extensions moving forward, namely Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan.
More than this, Cousins’ contract will set a precedent for younger signal callers set to sign extensions with their current teams moving forward. We’re looking at Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota here. And for the Vikings, they’re obviously viewing Cousins as a major upgrade over Case Keenum. Whether that comes to fruition remains to be seen. But doling out $84 million guaranteed over three seasons is surely a major risk for the defending NFC North champs.
Jets out here improving their roster
After missing out on Kirk Cousins and the top-flight wide receivers in free agency, the Jets used their excess of cap room to improve in other areas. That includes signing former Cleveland Browns running back Isaiah Crowell to a three-year contract to replace the recently retired Matt Forte. Crowell, 25, has put up 2,306 total yards and nine touchdowns while averaging 4.5 yards per rush over the past two seasons. He figures to take over as the team’s three-down back.
However, it’s the other side of the ball that the Jets focused on big time in free agency. That includes handing cornerback Trumaine Johnson the richest contract for a cornerback in NFL history at $15 million per season. It might have been an overpay, but Johnson will now team up with safety Jamal Adams to form a solid duo in the defensive backfield.
Adding to the intrigue here, New York re-signed Josh McCown to a one-year, $10 million contract and also picked up free agent signal caller Teddy Bridgewater. Yeah, it’s been an active 24 hours for this long downtrodden franchise. It could also change the entire dynamic of the team’s draft plans at quarterback. Stay tuned, the Jets’ offseason is going to continue being popcorn-worthy.