- Free agency winners and losers: Wednesday
NFL free agency is hardly over, but it’s safe to say the frenzy slowed dramatically even before the official league year started on Wednesday afternoon.
Looking back at the original list of this year’s top 101 free agents — constructed by colleague Chris Wesseling and I before franchise tag season — Jadeveon Clowney is the only player without a deal from our initial top 25. If you remove the 14 tagged players from the list, only three of the top 20 (Clowney, Jameis Winston and Vonn Bell) and 14 of the top 50 currently remain without a deal.
There are plenty of values to find and big questions to answer, but the biggest fireworks have already gone off. With that in mind, let’s look at the impact from Wednesday’s action:
The Bears’ playoff chances: It’s amazing how quickly conventional wisdom can change about a quarterback. Perhaps Nick Foles shouldn’t have been ranked as high as he was on our free agent list last year, but the utter dismissal of his talent this year is going too far in the other direction.
Mitchell Trubisky and Foles are not equals, which is why the Bears were willing to send over a fourth-round pick for Foles before working on a restructured (presumably reduced) contract with him, according to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo. This will look like anything resembling a fair fight when Trubisky does something like complete a season with 27 touchdowns and two interceptions or, say, complete one of the greatest performances by a quarterback in Super Bowl history. Foles is streaky, but he’s not a fluke. His highs are so much higher than anything Trubisky has ever shown, and he has experience in Bears coach Matt Nagy’s system.
Perhaps Trubisky will be allowed to start Week 1 out of loyalty, but Foles will wind up playing for the Bears and making them a better team when he does. I would have preferred for Bears general manager Ryan Pace to truly swing for the fences and go after Cam Newton, but at least the Bears did something other than trot out the same "We believe in Mitch" line for the rest of the offseason.
The Patriots’ quarterback options: NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reports that the Chargers are not expected to pursue a veteran quarterback after missing out on Tom Brady, moving forward with Tyrod Taylor (and presumably a rookie) for 2020.
That leaves Cam Newton, Andy Dalton and Jameis Winston without a logical home for next season. The Patriots are perhaps the only team left without an expected starter, although second-year pro Jarrett Stidham is likely a bigger factor in Bill Belichick’s head than that of the public at large. Still, Belichick loves value. It would be a very Patriots-like move to pick up a former No. 1 overall draft pick at quarterback at a deep discount price. My instinct says that Josh McDaniels would rather come up with a new offense for Cam than trust Winston to avoid mistakes, but Belichick has options.
Gardner Minshew’s job security: The good news for Minshew: The Jaguars showed their faith in him by dealing away Nick Foles. The bad news: Foles’ contract accounts for more than half of the $33.9 million in dead money on the Jaguars salary cap, according to Over The Cap, a preposterous level of mismanagement by the Jaguars. That money could be used to improve the weapons around Minshew or fix a Jaguars defense suddenly thin on talent.
The Chargers’ short-term gambles: Spending on veterans over 30 is risky business in free agency, but the Chargers waited out the initial rush and acquired quality starters at good prices over the last two days. Bryan Bulaga immediately gives them credibility at right tackle, a longtime trouble spot for the team. Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. reportedly passed on signing with the Raiders to join a secondary that remains one of the team’s strengths. Agreeing to a deal with former Vikings defensive tackle Linval Joseph is a riskier move after a down season, but he helps fill a gaping hole in the middle of the Chargers line. Now the team just has to find the right successor to Philip Rivers in the draft.
The Rams’ defense: I’m curious to see what the Rams defense looks like under new coordinator Brandon Staley, but we know the personnel will be a lot different. Gone are starters Dante Fowler, Michael Brockers, Cory Littleton, Nickell Robey-Coleman and Eric Weddle. To replace Fowler, the Rams picked up former Bears first-round pick Leonard Floyd, hoping that he has a Fowler-like resurgence in the California sun.
Meanwhile, the Falcons’ pickup of Fowler — for $48 million over three years — felt like one of the last big contracts in the first wave of free agency. (Although Clowney’s deal is still coming.) After years of struggling to develop their own pass rushers, Fowler is a boom-or-bust risk worth taking for a team needing juice.
The excitement over the new league year: The NFL should just do away with referring to the two days before the official start of free agency as the negotiating period. Just let it fly right out of the gate if the majority of the biggest trades and contracts were all agreed to before the technical start of free agency.
This year is particularly strange because physicals and contracts aren’t actually being completed due to the lack of medical testing and travel in our surreal, COVID-19 world, so teams couldn’t officially announce the vast majority of moves on Wednesday. This week’s surge of activity will be looked upon fondly soon enough, however, because it’s about to get real quiet. Now that these agreements have been made, it’s worth wondering when any of the players will actually be allowed to wear their new uniforms.
- LATEST ANALYSIS
› Winners, losers from Wednesday’s moves
› FA tracker: Key additions for each team
› Top 101 free agents of 2020
The Titans’ search for defensive identity: Tennessee’s trade of defensive tackle Jurrell Casey to the Broncos for a seventh-round pick was a stunner. Casey is due $11.25 million in base salary and he had a nagging shoulder injury last year, but he’s been one of the most durable and effective defensive linemen in football for years. They essentially replaced Casey’s cap hit with former Falcons pass rusher Vic Beasley, who is getting good money ($9.5 million guaranteed) despite disappointing his former team year after year.
The former Patriots tax: It’s been harder for Bill Belichick to retain Patriots-type players in recent years because of his former acolytes with jobs around the league. The Lions picked up Danny Shelton and Jamie Collins and traded for safety Duron Harmon this offseason. The Dolphins grabbed Kyle Van Noy and center Ted Karras. Scooping up players who Belichick gave up on hasn’t been a particularly useful strategy in the past.
Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.
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