Wow, when the bell rung at 4 p.m. Thursday, NFL GMs made a feeding frenzy out of the 2017 free agent class.
Some teams improved, some did absolutely nothing — which may not be a bad thing, considering the stupid money being thrown around — and some teams digressed.
The day kicked off with the news that the Cleveland Browns (more on them later) had signed free agent wide receiver Kenny Britt to a four-year, $32.5 million contract. Nice move, if only they had a decent QB in the fold (more on that later too).
It was followed up by the proposed signing of back-up QB Mike Glennon (again, more on him soon) by the Chicago Bears to a three-year, $43.5 million contract. In a market bereft of top shelf QBs, we’re not sure what to make of that news.
With all the activity, there has been a ton of social media and mainstream media talk about the winners and losers. We prefer to call the moves on Day 1 of free agency either good, bad or ugly. Here they are, from good, to bad, to downright fugly.
Good – Tampa Signs WR DeSean Jackson
That Jameis Winston is one of eminent young passers in the league — he suffered no sophomore jinx last season — is an understatement. However, having just one real red zone threat in big Mike Evans last season didn’t do him — or the Bucs — any favors. Thus, armed with some cap space and an need to line up a good wideout opposite Evans, the Bucs reeled in star receiver DeSean Jackson from the Washington Redskins with a three-year, $35 million deal ($20 million of it guaranteed). The speedy nine-year veteran has averaged 18.1 yards per reception since 2009, the most in the NFL and his 2,001 yards after he’s made catches is tops of any player since 2008. Jackson caught 56 passes last season for 1,005 yards (17.9 yds/catch) and four TDs. He’s had five seasons of 1,000 or more yards and has caught a total of 46 TDs in 127 career games.
Good (And A Bit Bad) – Jaguars Take Two Defensive Steps Forward, One Back
Overall, we’ll call the Jacksonville Jaguars Day 1 moves good, though tampered with a bit of bad. On the good side, the team seems to have improved its secondary and defensive line for a defence that gave up 25 points a game last year, at fairly hefty cost. First, they inked Houston Texans CB A.J. Bouye to a whopping five-year, $67.5 million contract, with $26 million guaranteed. It’s a bit of a gamble, considering Bouye has only became a starter in 2016 (his fourth year in the league). However, he’s a good shut down corner who allowed just 54.5 percent of passes thrown at him to be completed. As for the D-line, the Jags — who had plenty of cap space — snagged DE Calais Campbell from Arizona for four years at $15 million per season. The two-time Pro Bowler has played nine seasons with Arizona, and at 30 might be a question mark health wise, but he did record 56.5 sacks in 138 games and is good as either a pass rusher or run defender. On the bad side, the Jags lost standout safety Johnathan Cyprien to division rival Tennessee. Oops.
Good – Cleveland Upgrades At Receiver And Offensive Line
The only question here is, who’ll start at QB? More later, stay tuned. The Browns, who had and still have quite bit of cap space, immediately went to work addressing their offence on Thursday. First, they signed eight-year veteran receiver Kenny Britt to a four-year, $32.5 million pact. He’s still just 28 and coming off his first 1,000 yard receiving season. He had career highs in catches (68), targets (111) and snared five TDs for the Rams. Good numbers, considering he was targeted by a raw rookie (Jared Goff) and a so-so veteran (Case Keenum). The Browns, with the most money to spend of any team, then solidified their offensive line, signing guard Kevin Zeitler away from division rival Cincinnati for five years and $60 million. They then scooped center J.C. Tretter from Green Bay, inking him to a three-year, $16.8 million deal. That was the good of the Browns first day in free agency, the bad is coming.
Good – Eagles Give QB Carson Wentz Some Receiving Weapons
The Eagles, who have made a mess of things for a few seasons running, finally showed the faithful — and up-and-coming pivot Carson Wentz — that they are serious about winning. Well, at least about scoring points, in bushels. The Eagles came out guns ablazin’ Thursday, snaring big free agent fish Alshon Jeffery to a one-year, $14 million “prove it” contract. By that we mean Jeffery needs to get back to the production he showed in 2013 and 2014 (2,554 yards, 17 TD in 32 games), after two seasons where he played just 21 games and rolled up 1,628 yards receiving and six TDs. Now, he was playing for the Bears, so we’ll cut him some slack. The Eagles weren’t done there, however, signing veteran wideout Torrey Smith to a team-friendly three-year, $15 million contract. The six-year veteran didn’t have a great season in San Fran — but then again, no one did — he’s still just 28 and he does have a season of 1,000 yards on his resume.
Good – Ravens Re-Sign Brandon Williams, Acquire S Jefferson From Cardinals
Defence has always been a hallmark of Baltimore Ravens teams. That is why the re-signing of NT Brandon Williams was key to their front seven. With Terrell Suggs getting older, Zachary Orr retired and Elvi Dumervil released, the five-year, $54 million pact with Williams was money well spent, considering what it cost Jacksonville to sign DE Calais Campbell (a player of similar talent). Where the Ravens are in marginally good territory was the signing of S Tony Jefferson, despite the presence of great safeties Eric Weddle and Lardarius Webb. However, Jefferson was pretty good and durable in four seasons with Arizona, registering 276 tackles, five sacks, six force fumbles, two interceptions (one a pick six) and 11 passes defended in 63 games. Another tool in the box for a great Ravens defensive secondary.
Bad – Redskins Fire GM McCloughan, Make Dubious Signings
Instead of addressing some key needs, like defensive end, wide receiver (DeSean Jackson is gone) and potentially QB (Kirk Cousins is UFA and hasn’t re-signed), the Redskins made themselves an even more undesirable free agent destination with the dubious firing of general manager Scot McCloughan on Thursday. Redskins president Bruce Allen, who has had a contentious relationship with McCloughan, released a statement that didn’t specify why the GM was let go. However, an official with direct knowledge of the situation said it was due to McCloughan’s alleged issues with alcohol, citing multiple relapses and instances where he showed up in the dressing room drunk. Firing the GM for such behavior isn’t without merit (though some say it was a convenient excuse), but firing him on an important day for a so-so franchise — instead of well before — kind of has an odor to it. That is, it could serve to deflect criticism for their activity on Thursday, that is signing mediocre defensive tackles Terrell McClain (Dallas) and Stacy McGee (Oakland).
Bad – Cincinnati Bengals Lose Two Key Offensive Linemen
As mentioned above, the Cleveland Browns hit the jackpot on signing 27-year-old guard Kevin Zeitler to a five-year, $60 million contract. Zeitler was graded by Pro Football Focus as the third-best regular right guard in the league in 2016, and he was just as effective in 2015. That was bad news heaped on bad news for QB Andy Dalton, who also saw the exit of arguably the best offensive lineman in free agency, Andrew Whitworth, to the Los Angeles Rams. The two-time 35-year-old tackle signed a three-year, $36 million contract to protect fledgling QB Jared Goff, instead of having Dalton’s back for a few more campaigns. Whitworth is a two-time Pro Bowler who hasn’t missed a start since 2013 and whose loss on the Bengals front line will be hard to replace.
Bad – Colts Sit On Their Hands, Lose Out On Preferred Targets
It is only one day in many days of free agency, but with other teams get a jump on upgrading their rosters on Thursday, the Colts’ inaction could prove to be costly. Indianapolis entered free agency with a generous heaping of cap space to address glaring needs on the offensive line and throughout the team’s defence. However, after the first wave of signings, the Colts came away with zip in the first hours. Making big moves when building a roster isn’t imperative – it’s not always even advisable – but adding a name like LB Nick Perry (re-signed with Packers), CB A.J. Bouye (signed with Jacksonville), or the aforementioned OL Kevin Zeitler (gone to Cleveland) would have represented major upgrades at key positions. The Colts will have to get busy bolstering a thin roster over the next week.
Bad – Bears No Closer To Solving Starting QB Problem
As foretold, the Bears waved goodbye to mercurial quarterback Jay Cutler yesterday after eight seasons in the Windy City. Cutler was magnanimous in his departure, sending the fans a heartfelt letter thanking them for their support. So, how did the Bears fare on the first day of free agency, given they needed a starter and had just shed Cutler’s cap hit? Well, they did sign big pivot Mike Glennon away from Tampa Bay for three years and $45 million ($19 million guaranteed. What they got in him are probably more questions than answers to their need at QB. Is he better than Brian Hoyer? Probably. Is he their franchise quarterback of the now, or the future? Yes, and no. He’s played all of 21 games since 2013, without taking one snap in all of 2015 and attempting all of 11 passes in anger (completing 10) in 2016. With Glennon’s signing, it’s not likely they will snare anyone else available, so they may have to get creative with the third pick in the draft.
Ugly – Cleveland Accepts Brock Osweiler And His Massive Contract In A Trade
This move, we believe, is ugly for the Browns, despite the fact they had the most cap room of any team. It is good for the Texans, who got out from under the supreme blunder they made signing Osweiler in the first place and saved themselves $10 million in cap space they can use to sign Tony Romo. What the Browns did in making this trade was pretty much negate all the good feelings generated when they upgraded at receiver and the offensive line (which we detailed above). Sure, Cleveland picked up a second round pick in 2018 and a sixth-rounder this year in the transaction — at the cost of a 2017 fourth rounder — but they already have enough draft picks and take on $16 million in salary. However you look at it, Osweiler is not the answer at quarterback for a team that employed umpteen signal callers last year, which means the Browns are still going to be mediocre to bad for the foreseeable future. Jimmy Garoppolo, anyone?