Games aren’t decided in March, but stories assigning winners of early free agency certainly are.
The NFL news cycle got a huge boost this year with a handful of massive names moving—both via trade and free agency—in just a few days. A free-agency period that last week seemed destined to be boring ended up as among the most exciting in years.
Check out grades for the biggest individual moves here. And below I’ve listed the top five winners of free agency just as free agency “officially” begins, and you won’t find the New York Giants on here.
Browns GM John Dorsey getting Odell Beckham Jr. from the Giants for Jabrill Peppers, a first- and a third-round pick is absolutely incredible. Old LSU pals Beckham and Jarvis Landry reunite to give sophomore quarterback Baker Mayfield plenty of options when he’s not handing off to Nick Chubb, Duke Johnson or Kareem Hunt.
On defense the Browns got Olivier Vernon to match with a cadre of great pass rushers that new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks will have a ball with. I thought they spent a little more than they should have on tackle Greg Robinson (a one-year deal worth up to $9 million), but the other moves this week more or less erased that for me.
This is exactly what teams should do: Put elite talent around your franchise quarterback on a rookie deal and try to win a championship in what amounts to a three-year window. Who isn’t taking the Browns to win the AFC North in 2019?
Green Bay Packers
These are not your father’s Packers. Brian Gutekunst is spending in free agency, and the Packers are better for it. So what if it didn’t really work out last year with Jimmy Graham and Mo Wilkerson? This year’s haul appears to be much better. Green Bay got much-needed pass rushing help with Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith. Then the Packers added safety Adrian Amos from Chicago on a four-year deal worth $37 million, a solid average-per-year for a player of his caliber at that position.
That the Packers were able to add like this in free agency less than a year after giving Aaron Rodgers the richest contract in NFL history is impressive. But Green Bay will be out of excuses if this doesn’t lead the Packers back to the playoffs this year.
Social media got its jokes off when Antonio Brown blew up the deal that could have sent him to Buffalo. And then Robert Klemko polled agents who aren’t crazy about sending their clients to Western New York. But second-year GM Brandon Beane brought in a nice haul early in free agency.
Speedster John Brown will pair nicely with big-armed quarterback Josh Allen. Then there’s Cole Beasley in the slot. Beane nabbed center Mitch Morse to anchor the offensive line. He also picked up tight end Tyler Koft and added ageless wonder Frank Gore on a one-year deal as he continues his march up the all-time rushing yards list.
New England Patriots
Sometimes the best moves are the ones you don’t make. As is their wont, the Patriots opted against paying big money to both Trey Flowers and Trent Brown. More compensatory picks are coming Bill Belichick’s way!
But Belichick isn’t without pass-rush help. He traded for Michael Bennett, who had one of the best get-to-the-quarterback seasons of any defender last season. He also tendered cornerback Jonathan Jones and signed Jason McCourty to a two-year deal.
Having an elite quarterback on a team-friendly deal really helps out.
The Eagles were ready to dump Michael Bennett in a cost-cutting move when they got a fifth-rounder from New England for him. They opted against doing the foolish thing and tagging Nick Foles, and now they’ll likely get a third-round comp pick for him in 2020. Howie Roseman got left tackle Jason Peters back on a one-year deal and inked Malik Jackson to a three-year, $30 million deal. And center Jason Kelce sgned an extension at the UPS Store.
And finally, possibly the best trade of the offseason was getting DeSean Jackson back to Philadelphia. The marriage with Jameis Winston in Tampa never worked, so Jackson going back to a team that should never have gotten rid of him (thanks, Chip Kelly!) is the right move.
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