The NFL legal tampering period started on Monday. Within minutes, the Oakland Raiders had inked Trent Brown to the richest contract for an offensive lineman in the history of the NFL.
That led to a trickle-down effect in which multiple players reset the market at their respective positions. We’re looking at absolutely massive pay days for the likes of Landon Collins and Kwon Alexander. Meanwhile, the Jacksonville Jaguars found their replacement for Blake Bortles under center.
While these deals can’t be made official until the start of the new league year on Wednesday, there’s still a whole lot to look at. It’s in this that we give you our biggest winners and losers from Monday’s free agency frenzy around the NFL.
Winner: Detroit Lions
Young Lions head coach Matt Patricia needed to get his type of players on defense in order to take that next step. Detroit didn’t waste any time on Monday — adding slot cornerback Justin Coleman and star pass rusher Trey Flowers on two record-breaking deals. Detroit then added former Steelers tight end Jesse James to provide Matthew Stafford another option in the passing game.
Paying Coleman $36 million over four years seems a bit steep. But the nickel corner spot has taken on more importance in recent years. He’s been among the best in the game at that slot. Meanwhile, Flowers led New England in sacks each of the past three seasons. He’s an upgrade over Ezekiel Ansah from both a consistency and health standpoint.
Loser: Oakland Raiders
Fresh off stealing Antonio Brown from Pittsburgh for a smallish return, the Raiders were back up to their questionable tricks Monday. Mere minutes after the legal tampering period opened Monday afternoon, Oakland signed former Patriots and 49ers tackle Trent Brown to a record-breaking four-year, $66 million contract.
Brown was traded from the 49ers to the New England Patriots during the 2018 NFL Draft for a swap of mid-round picks. This came after San Francisco grew tired of Brown’s lack of conditioning. While he did anchor a Patriots offensive line that allowed just 21 sacks of Tom Brady last season, Pro Football Focus graded Brown out as the 32nd-best tackle in the game. Even in a market that’s seeing inflation throw contracts out of whack, this one stood above pretty much the rest. We will give Oakland credit for upgrading at safety with former Rams second-round pick Lamarcus Joyner.
Winner: Free agent safeties
NFL teams were absolutely shocked by the six-year, $84 million deal Washington signed Landon Collins to. Said deal called for $45 million in total guarantees. This is a heck of a price to pay for an in-the-box safety that’s limited from a coverage standpoint. It also shaped what we’re going to see at safety as the remainder of free agency plays out.
Mere hours later, the Kansas City Chiefs inked former All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu to a three-year, $42 million contract. His average annual salary is $14 million — ranking second behind Collins among NFL safeties. All the while, Earl Thomas is out here looking for $15 million per season. Yeah, safeties are getting paid this March.
Loser: Washington Redskins
While Kansas City’s decision to sign Mathieu was seen in a relatively positive light, it looks like Washington has dropped the ball in free agency once again. Sure Landon Collins was a three-time Pro Bowler in four seasons with the Giants. But dropping $45 million in guarantees to a player that’s limited in coverage makes no sense. That type of money should be reserved for true cover safety, much like Mathieu and Thomas.
Instead, Washington overpaid in a big way to add a decent safety. With all the holes on this team, it made absolutely no sense. We’re highly intrigued to see how this works out for president Bruce Allen and Co.
Winner: Tyrann Mathieu
Honey Badger deserves his own blurb for what the former LSU standout has been able to accomplish throughout his career. Entering the NFL as a third-round pick back in 2013, Mathieu was seen as an immature troublemaker. He was jettisoned from the Tigers’ program after an arrest on marijuana possession charges. A top-20 talent, teams simply avoided him during the draft.
Six years later, and Mathieu is now one of the highest-paid safeties in the entire NFL. He previously earned an All-Pro appearance with the Arizona Cardinals before suffering a devastating knee injury. Mathieu then turned it around in Houston this past season before signing a lucrative long-term deal in Kanasas City. A man that once contemplated suicide, Mathieu is at the top of the professional world. He’s also a darn good dude. Props, Honey Badger.
Loser: Cincinnati Bengals
Not one to be active in free agency, Cincinnati normally tends to spend money retaining its own players. Unfortunately, that included re-signing one of the worst tackles in the NFL — Bobby Hart — to a three-year, $21 million contract on Monday.
Hart, 24, started all 16 games for the Bengals at right tackle last season after bombing out big time with the New York Giants earlier in his career. Pro Football Focus graded him out as the 69th-best offensive tackle in 2018. He was one of only four tackles to allow 10-plus sacks last season and committed 11 penalties. Not great.
Winner: New York Jets
The three-year, $28.5 million deal New York signed former Redskins slot receiver Jamison Crowder to might have been an overpay. But this is a team with a ton of cash to spend under the cap. Getting young quarterback Sam Darnold any help has to be seen as a win.
However, it was the signing of four-time Pro Bowl linebacker Anthony Barr from the Vikings that sets these Jets apart. Among the best 4-3 pass rush linebackers in the NFL, it’s going to be absolutely amazing to see Barr excel in new coordinator Gregg Williams’ defensive system. Barr is 26 years old and just now hitting his prime. Really good work from the Jets on Monday.
Loser: Indianapolis Colts
With north of $100 million to spend in free agency, most anticipated that the general manager Chris Ballard and the Colts would be active. No one anticipated the team handing former Carolina Panthers second-round pick Devin Funchess a one-year, $10 million deal that could be worth up to $13 million with incentives.
Funchess, 24, never panned out with Cam Newton in Carolina. Last season saw him record just 44 receptions for 549 yards on 79 targets. He posted an absurdly low 55.7 catch rate. Despite his track record of success, one really has to wonder what Ballard was doing here.
Winner: Teams that avoided initial wave
Whether it was Kwon Alexander to the 49ers or the ridiculous contract Oakland gave to offensive tackle Trent Brown, the first day of NFL’s legal tampering period was defined by massive overpays. While it’s important to note that this year’s market is ripe with inflation, teams that wait to become players in free agency might end up being the biggest winners.
We’ve seen it on an annual basis around the NFL. A certain team wins the Super Bowl in March by spending out of their back end. In turn, the players said team acquires don’t really move the needle when fall comes calling. We’re not willing to say that those who signed massive deals Monday won’t help their teams. Rather, there’s still a ton of talent on the market. When the supply and demand aspect to said market evens out, other teams will be in play.
Loser: Jacksonville Jaguars
We fully understand that Tom Coughlin and the Jags are hellbent on contending next season after a disastrous 2018 campaign. We also know that soon-to-be released quarterback Blake Bortles was not the answer under center. Even then, handing former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles a rich free agent contract doesn’t seem to be the answer.
Despite Foles’ postseason success in Philadelphia over the past two years, his body of work is not indicative of a player set to earn $22 million annually. After all, Foles has started a grand total of 44 games in seven NFL seasons. Equally as disturbing, Jacksonville gave the veteran journeyman $50.12 million guaranteed and $46.63 million over the first two years.