NFL free agency talk, Jets make trade, Cowboys stagnate and more

NFL


NFL free agency was wild, with more than $1 billion changing hands. However, how much of the race for Super Bowl LIII was truly impacted?

Before free agency began in earnest on Monday afternoon, the New England Patriots were the odds-on favorite to win Super Bowl LIII. After losing a host of contributors, they likely remain that way in the eyes of most.

In Vegas, the Patriots have the best odds to hoist the Lombardi Trophy, and they added little of major value over the past week while losing Nate Solder, Malcolm Butler, Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis. The Pittsburgh Steelers have the second-best odds in the AFC, and likewise did nothing of note.

In the NFC, the Minnesota Vikings made the biggest moves, landing Kirk Cousins on a fully-guaranteed three-year, $84 million deal before signing Sheldon Richardson on Friday. The odds for them to win the Super Bowl went from 14/1 to 9/1, the only contender who really improved its odds. The Philadelphia Eagles remained in the NFC’s top slot (17/2), only adding to an already stacked defense by signing Haloti Ngata and retaining Nigel Bradham.

Few teams were more aggressive than the Chicago Bears, who added tight end Trey Burton, receivers Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel, and outside linebacker Aaron Lynch. Yet it’s Chicago with the league’s worst odds at 80/1, save the Cincinnati Bengals (90/1) and New York Jets (100/1).

In short, free agency changes addresses and cap space, but it seldom alters the big picture in the short term.

While spending gobs of money is almost always a recipe for disaster, free agency is a useful tool when used wisely. Unfortunately for their fans, the Indianapolis Colts and Oakland Raiders have been the most perplexing teams thus far. Oakland has been signing old, slow offensive players, ranging from Derek Carrier and Keith Smith to Doug Martin and Jordy Nelson. If Jon Gruden was serious about playing the game like its 1998, he’s well on his way.

The Raiders desperately needed to upgrade the 23rd-ranked defense from a year ago, but has done little to achieve that objective. While Tahir Whitehead and Marcus Gilchrist are helpful, they don’t change the landscape.

Indianapolis came into free agency with the third-most cap space in the league, and has yet to make a meaningful move. General manager Chris Ballard is smart to be selective and prudent, but the level of inactivity has been staggering.

However, there are a few teams that could have gone from bystanders to party crashers come this fall.

The Green Bay Packers added a pair of high-impact players on each side of the ball in tight end Jimmy Graham and defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson. Graham gives Aaron Rodgers an elite red zone target, while Wilkerson adds to an already intriguing front seven. After missing the playoffs in 2017 due to Rodgers’ broken collarbone, the Packers should be a threat to make a deep run.

In Tennessee, the Titans had a terrific free agency period, but are they in the mix for a championship? After signing Butler to play opposite Adoree’ Jackson and Lewis to pair with Derrick Henry, the Titans are improved. Still, they are fighting upstream in a division that has gone from bad to tough in the span of a year.

So why are teams spending money if it typically doesn’t change the landscape? It’s a long game, and it’s business. Franchises have to keep their fanbases energized, and a couple of good moves over a few seasons can change a doormat into a contender.

Free agency is a trap for most, and a treasure for a few that are wise in their decision-making.

Power rankings

10 biggest contracts handed out in 2018 free agency

1. Kirk Cousins, QB, Minnesota Vikings ($84 million)
2. Trumaine Johnson, CB, New York Jets ($72.5 million)
3. Andrew Norwell, OG, Jacksonville Jaguars ($66.5 million)
4. Nate Solder, OT, New York Giants ($62 million)
5. Malcolm Butler, CB, Tennessee Titans ($61.5 million)
6. Kyle Fuller, CB, Chicago Bears ($56 million)
7. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints ($50 million)
8. Star Lotulelei, DT, Buffalo Bills ($50 million)
9. Sammy Watkins, WR, Kansas City Chiefs ($48 million)
10. Weston Richburg, C, San Francisco 49ers ($47.5 million)

Quotable

“That’s not a football decision. That’s a medical decision that I have no control over.”

– Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome on Ryan Grant’s failed physical

The Ravens agreed to sign wide receiver Ryan Grant to a four -year, $29 million deal during the NFL’s tampering window in a deal that was widely panned. Then, on Thursday, Grant failed Baltimore’s physical, making the agreement null and void.

Was Grant really hurt, or was it a simple case of buyer’s remorse? We will never truly know, but the Ravens signing of Michael Crabtree less than 24 hours sure makes one wonder.

Podcast

Matt Verderame and Josh Hill bring you a new episode of Stacking The Box every Monday on the FanSided Facebook page at 1 p.m. ET, and also on iTunes. Please make sure to watch/listen and download the podcast on your mobile devices!

Random stat

The Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the only two teams to play in both the AFC and NFC. The conferences were created as part of the 1970 AFC-NFC merger, and both the Seahawks and Buccaneers were added to the NFL in 1976 as expansion franchises.

The Buccaneers played their first season in the AFC West, while the Seahawks began their odyssey in the NFC Central. The following year, the teams swapped placed, before Seattle returned to the NFC via realignment in 2002.

Info learned this week

1. Colts, Jets make critical swap

On Saturday, the Colts and Jets made a blockbuster trade that didn’t involve a single player. New York, desperate to land a quarterback in the draft, traded up from the No. 6 spot to No. 3, surrendering the sixth-overall selection, two 2018 second-round choices and a 2019 second-round pick in the process.

For Indianapolis general manager Chris Ballard, this was a no-brainer. The Colts weren’t selecting a quarterback and so moving back was the correct move. Indianapolis needs help all over the roster, and having four picks in the first two rounds is a great start in that endeavor.

For the Jets, the rebuild can’t truly get underway without a signal-caller to lead the way. New York has been looking for a true franchise quarterback since Joe Namath. We’ll see if they finally find one on April 26.

2. Vontaze Burfict suspended again

On Friday afternoon, the news came down that Bengals middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict was suspended for four games, per Adam Schefter. Burfict was found to violate the league’s performance enhancing drug policy. Burfict, 27, has now been fined nine times and suspended on three occasions for a total of 10 games.

After signing a three-year, $33 million extension a year ago, Burfict appeared to get a clean slate from the Bengals. Now, with all the guaranteed money in his deal being voided, the Bengals can move on … and should. At some juncture, enough is enough despite Burfict being one of the most talented players in the game.

3. Texans sign Honey Badger to shore up secondary

On Saturday night, the Houston Texans added another star to a suddenly dangerous team, signing safety Tyrann Mathieu to a one-year deal worth $7 million. While injuries have been a concern throughout his career, the 25-year-old played all 16 games for the first time in 2017, giving reason to believe he’s turning a corner.

Mathieu is easily the best player in a deep but not star-studded Houston secondary. The Texans are hoping to make a run with a revamped offensive line and the return of quarterback Deshaun Watson, who looked like an elite prospect as a rookie. If the Texans can get good health from J.J. Watt and Mathieu, they are going to be a tough out in the AFC.

4. Broncos hold intrigue at No. 5

After signing Case Keenum to a two-year deal, the Denver Broncos don’t have to take a quarterback in the first round of the draft come April. Denver general manager John Elway knows the future at that position isn’t represented by Keenum, but the veteran does buy time and create a bridge.

Assuming three quarterbacks go off the board in the top four picks to the Cleveland Browns, Jets and whoever ends up picking second, the Broncos are likely going with Baker Mayfield or the best player on the board. Considering the state of the roster, the latter move would be best with Keenum in tow.

Denver could conceivably land Saquon Barkley, Bradley Chubb, Denzel Ward, Quentin Nelson, Mincah Fitzpatrick or another top-tier talent, helping the Broncos recover after two seasons out of the playoffs.

5. Ryan Shazier is working out

Shazier won’t be playing in 2018, and may never play football ever again, but seeing him active is a wonderful sight. The Pittsburgh star was doing pull ups, showcasing a desire to get back to the form which made him a two-time Pro Bowler.

At 25 years old, Shazier and the Steelers are hoping he can make a comeback at some point. Pittsburgh has kept him on the roster despite knowing he’s out for at least another season and maybe permanently, with $8.7 million on the books.

Whether or not Shazier can ever play football again, he appears on his way to a full life, something far more meaningful.

History lesson

In 1972, the Miami Dolphins put together the only undefeated season in NFL history. Amazingly, they were only a one-point favorite over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII.

Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, the biggest spread in Super Bowl history was in 1994, with the 49ers laying 18.5 points against the San Diego Chargers. San Francisco covered, winning 49-26.

Parting shot

What are the Dallas Cowboys doing? Dallas is the lone NFL team to not sign a single free agent, and while that’s fine if you have an already loaded roster, the Cowboys aren’t in that position.

There are rumors that the Cowboys tried to sign Sammy Watkins, an indication that Dez Bryant might not be long for Big D. However, Dallas ended up standing pat, and now questions persist as to what the plan of attack is.

With most of the quality free agents off the board, can the Cowboys do enough to rebound off a disappointing season with a playoff berth in 2018? Dallas has Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and the league’s best offensive line, but the defense has uncertainty at every level. Offensively, is Bryant still a top option? The former first-round pick hasn’t had a 100-yard game since Week 6 of the ’16 season.

The Cowboys are also in the wrong conference to be inactive and still hopeful of a January run. The Vikings and Packers are legitimate Super Bowl contenders, while the Saints and Atlanta Falcons have reason to believe they can make continue ascending. The Los Angeles Rams are stacked and well-coached, while the Eagles might be stronger on paper than they were last year.

If Dallas has any designs of going somewhere meaningful with Prescott and Elliott in their third seasons, the Cowboys’ brass better crush the draft.

 





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