The first day of the NFL tampering period is in the books and we saw many of the top NFL free agents come off the board quickly. Quarterbacks found new homes, playmakers got paid and the Jacksonville Jaguars found new ways to lose outside of the regular season.
On a day when NFL teams spent hundreds of millions of dollars, it’s fair to say the players didn’t come away on the losing end of Monday’s agreements. However, there will be plenty of fallout from the clubs who made the right moves and for others who either overspent or are facing real trouble ahead.
Here are the winners and losers from Monday’s NFL tampering period.
Winner: Los Angeles Chargers
The Los Angeles Chargers made their first big move this past week, acquiring Khalil Mack to create one of the best pass-rushing duos in the AFC. Recognizing it is in a perfect window to spend – thanks to a top quarterback and an elite offensive tackle on rookie contracts – that’s exactly what Los Angeles did on Monday.
While $16.5 million annually is a lot for J.C. Jackson, it’s cheaper than the $18 million AAV estimates that floated around him entering the offseason. The Chargers landed a No. 1 cornerback with 17 interceptions in the past two seasons. It’s precisely what Brandon Staley needed, starting to create a defense with high-end talent that helped make his scheme work during his days as the Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator.
The proverbial icing on this beautiful start to the NFL tampering period for LA, they added defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day. If you’re looking for great Super Bowl odds, the Chargers are the pick.
Loser: Jacksonville Jaguars
Spending money isn’t always a good thing. Jacksonville entered Monday loaded with NFL salary cap room and they spent like crazy. Yes, the Jaguars used more than $100 million to address some positional needs. However, it’s fair to also say they didn’t spend that money effectively.
Christian Kirk enjoyed a breakout season in 2021 with a majority of his snaps played in the slot. He is not the caliber of pass-catcher you pay $18 million per season. He’s a player with limitations and it’s hard to fathom a scenario where he is better than bringing Allen Robinson back or biting the financial bullet and acquiring Amari Cooper instead of the Cleveland Browns.
It’s not the only problem we have with the Jaguars’ spending decisions. Jacksonville spent $45 million ($15M AAV) on linebacker Foye Oluokun. While he led the NFL in tackles, he also finished with a 46.5 grade from Pro Football Focus in 2021. Compare that to De’Vondre Campbell – re-signing with the Green Bay Packers for $50 million over five years – an All-Pro linebacker with an 84.7 PFF grade. If all of that isn’t bad enough, Evan Engram is a slot receiver playing tight end who can’t block and has 17 drops in the last two seasons. Remind us again why Trent Baalke remains employed?
Winner: Cincinnati Bengals
The average person watching the Cincinnati Bengals for 10 seconds during Super Bowl LVI could tell you this team needed to upgrade its interior offensive line. Getting Brandon Scherff would have been great, but the Bengals spread the money out to better address the trenches altogether.
Alex Cappa, who Tom Brady strongly wanted back with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, allowed just 5 sacks in nearly 800 pass-block snaps last season (PFF). Just as valuable for Cincinnati, the 27-year-old guard is a quality run blocker that can open up running lanes for Joe Mixon. He’ll be joined by interior lineman Ted Karras, who allowed just 11 pressures in 425 pass-block snaps last season with only two penalties.
Those moves alone made Cincinnati winners from the NFL tampering period on Monday. Getting defensive tackle B.J. Hill to return, that’s icing on the cake. The Bengals might not repeat as AFC champs next season, but they’re going to do a much better job protecting Joe Burrow.
Loser: Pittsburgh Steelers
We don’t appreciate Mike Tomlin enough. Even when the Pittsburgh Steelers make questionable moves each offseason, he finds a way to deliver a .500-plus record. He’s going to need to make incredible things happen again in 2022, because the Steelers’ moves at the start of the NFL tampering period don’t exactly inspire confidence.
A year in the Brian Daboll quarterback school did wonders for Mitch Trubisky‘s reputation. Suddenly, without playing a meaningful snap, the former No. 2 pick became the most coveted quarterback in free agency. Interestingly, one thing that wasn’t talked about is he ranked 40th among quarterbacks in Expected Points Added per play. As PFF’s Kevin Cole explained, Trubisky was consistently one of the worst passers in the NFL outside of performances when his team already trails in the game.
He might win a quarterback battle with Mason Rudolph in training camp, but that’s a low bar to clear. Pittsburgh also decided to pay right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor nearly $10 million per season just months after he finished with the second-most penalties (11) in the NFL and struggled in pass protection. It’s very difficult to fathom any scenario where everything works out.
Winner: Green Bay Packers
Monday didn’t start off on the best note for the Green Bay Packers. All-Pro wide receiver Davante Adams is reportedly willing to sit out the 2022 season if he doesn’t receive a contract extension. It’s an alarming threat for a team that is dangerously thin at wide receiver and over the cap. However, things got a lot better in Wisconsin before the end of the NFL tampering period’s first day.
Getting De’Vondre Campbell to return is massive. Keep in mind, this is a team that regularly had some of the worst play from its inside linebacker for years and the problem could seemingly never be fixed. Campbell arrived and changed everything, proving to be the perfect fit in Joe Barry’s defense. Getting him back at $10 million AAV, behind the likes of Blake Martinez and Joe Schobert, is a huge win for Green Bay. As for Adams, let’s just say it would be stunning if the two sides don’t work things out.
Loser: Indianapolis Colts
Indianapolis Colts general manager holds a sterling reputation, viewed as one of the best executives in the NFL. While he’s certainly responsible for acquiring some quality talent in the past, we’re really starting to wonder if he’s earning all the praise he receives.
We see this team among the leaders in cap space every year and they rarely have a lot to show for it. Outside of retaining Mo-Allie Cox, paid $6 million AAV to be the 25th-best tight end in the NFL, nothing happened. There is certainly time for Ballard to turn things around and it helps that the Jaguars wasted their opportunity to get a lot better in the early hours of the NFL tampering period.
At the end of the day, though, the Colts are going to settle for another mediocre quarterback (Marcus Mariota), make small additions and receive a bunch of hype before the 2022 season. Fast forward to a year from now, they’ll be in the same position with a gaping hole at quarterback and tons of cap space that won’t result in a star heading to Indianapolis.