- Which moves made in the initial hours of NFL free agency will have the most significant effect on the rest of the league?
With the league year less than 24 hours old, there are still plenty of deals to be made and contracts to be signed, but in the avalanche of news and rumors that dropped in the opening hours of free agency, which moves will resonate deep into the fall? We rank the ones that will make the biggest impact on the league, for better or worse.
1. DeSean Jackson to the Buccaneers (Three years, $35 million)
This deal leads the big-impact signings for me because it takes a team that wasn’t in the playoffs last year and puts them in contention for the NFC South crown. I wrote more extensively about what Jackson coming to Tampa Bay means for Jameis Winston, and the short version is that the former No. 1 pick now has a guy who will be difficult to overthrow. Jackson and Evans will pair to make two 1,000-yard receivers, and the Bucs also have an emerging tight end in Cameron Brate.
2. Stephon Gilmore to the Patriots (Five years, $65 million)
This is huge for two reasons. The first is that the rich get richer as the Super Bowl champs get a top cornerback. What happens with Malcolm Butler remains to be seen, since he hasn’t signed his tender yet and the Pats are apparently interested in dealing him. The second is that the Patriots apparently paid top dollar for him. Gilmore is reportedly averaging $13 million per year, which would put him near the top of his position in terms of average annual salary. The only other New England player who can say that is Rob Gronkowski.
3. Cleveland Browns’ offensive line
Joel Bitonio got six years and $51.2 million, and then ex-Bengal Kevin Zeitler broke the bank with his five-year, $60 million deal, the richest for his position in NFL history. Those are just the guards. The Browns also locked up center JC Tretter to a three-year deal. They have been the butt of the joke for two decades now, and for very good reason. They still don’t have a quarterback (God help them if somehow they roll into the season with Brock Osweiler) but they’re building an offense starting with the line, just like the Cowboys did. The Browns know they won’t be contenders in 2017, but the hope is that one win from 2016 turns into four next season, then to eight, then to the playoffs. Building and investing in the offensive line is a great place to start.
4. Mike Glennon to the Bears (Three years, $45 million)
The outrage over Glennon’s reported $14.5 million-per-year contract would be a little more understandable if we hadn’t gone over this several times of the last few years. If a team thinks a quarterback is good enough to win them four to six football games a year, he will be paid as much, if not more than, the best player at every other position on the field. Glennon was a competent starter on two bad Buccaneers teams. He has 30 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in his career, though his completion percentage (59.4) and yards per attempt (6.5) could use some help. Maybe he’s a bridge to Mitchell Trubisky, Deshaun Watson, DeShone Kizer or Patrick Mahomes, but no one has seen him start a game in three years, so he may be … *whispers* not that bad.
5. Brandon Marshall to the Giants (Two years, $12 million)
This is in the eye of the beholder, but I still put Jackson and Evans over Marshall and Odell Beckham Jr. as the best newly-constructed WR duo. Being No. 2 isn’t bad, though. Eli Manning usually misses high, and getting the 6' 4" Marshall will help greatly. Add in Sterling Shepard, and good luck to the rest of the NFC East trying to guard the Giants. Those are the pros of this signing to a team that already had a defense suited for January. Obviously, though, Marshall can be combustible. So can Beckham. If Marshall can be the calm, veteran presence that the receivers room needs, then this will work swimmingly. But if he and Beckham are posing on the bow of a yacht next postseason…
6. Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith (One year, $14 million; Three years, $15 million)
Carson Wentz will be forced to throw the ball down the field. Yes, Wentz started getting vertical as the season went on, but now he’ll have no other choice with Jeffery and Smith lined up outsie. Philadelphia, Washington and New York are playing catch-up to the Cowboys, who seem to have things figured out. The Giants have done plenty of work already to close a small gap. Who knows what’s going on in Washington? But Philadelphia splurging for some receivers—even if it’s just a one-year deal for Jeffery betting on himself—will help Philadelphia stay afloat in a competitive NFC East.
7. Kyle Juszczyk to the 49ers (Four years, $21 million)
Did the 49ers overpay for Juszczyk? Yes, absolutely, no question they did. He’s the highest-paid fullback in the NFL by a wide margin. So unfortunately for him (and this is a net very fortunate situation for Juszczyk), his time in San Francisco will be measured against how much money he makes and how much he’s used. The 49ers have money to spend, and usually this would be a sign that the fullback position is back and the market is booming, but really this seems more like an aberration. Juszczyk is ready to be a Swiss Army knife, and Kyle Shanahan will use him in every way possible to get the 49ers’ offense off the ground in 2017.
8. Nick Perry to the Packers (Five years, $60 million)
The outside linebacker landed a huge deal that reportedly will pay him $20.8 million in 2017. Aaron Rodgers averages a touch more than that at $22 million per year. That’s not how this thing is supposed to work. Rodgers has already planted his flag in his upcoming negotiations with the Packers this week when, responding to whether Mike Glennon’s deal would affect his next contract, he said “I would think so.” There won’t be some mutiny in Green Bay because a linebacker is almost making as much as Rodgers, but these two contracts make clear that the Packers should revisit their elite quarterback’s compensation.
9. Calais Campbell to the Jaguars (Four years, $60 million)
The Jaguars may actually have an embarrassment of riches along their defensive line. As in, they may have gotten too much. Campbell joins a Jaguars team that already has Malik Jackson, Dante Fowler Jr. and Abry Jones (after cutting veteran Sen’Derrick Marks). This feels like the second or third year the Jaguars have been big players on the first day of free agency only to lose 11 or more games later that season. The issue here, and the reason why Campbell is so low on this impact list, is because the defensive line isn’t winning Jacksonville any games. The Jaguars will go as Blake Bortles goes, and he made no steps last season (his third year in the league) that indicate he can make Jacksonville a contender.
10. Matt Kalil to the Panthers (Five years, $55 million)
Andrew Whitworth and Russell Okung are both better players, but holy cow did you see what the Panthers gave Kalil?! The impact here is that Carolina believes offensive line coach John Matsko can cure Kalil’s poor play from recent years—and it was poor before the hip injury that cost him most of 2016. If they get the Kalil from Minnesota in ’15, Cam Newton has no chance on his blind side. But people doubted GM Dave Gettleman when he signed Michael Oher in free agency two years ago and flipped him from right to left tackle, and Oher held up well in Carolina’s Super Bowl year. The Panthers (including brother Ryan Kalil) need to work some magic with Matt Kalil, so this move has impact potential if you’re willing to hold your breath.