The first wave of NFL free agency is in the books as we’re one week into the signing frenzy. The top players came off of the board fairly quickly, signing massive deals left and right.
The rich got richer as the Patriots are locked and (re)loaded for the 2017 season, while the Jets have gone in the complete opposite direction. They weren’t the only winners and losers, though.
Certain position groups cashed in while others sat around and waited for money to come their way.
Here are the winners and losers so far.
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No team was more active this past week than the Patriots. They landed Brandin Cooks, Dwayne Allen, Stephon Gilmore, Kony Ealy and Lawrence Guy, improving both offensively and defensively with free agency and trades. Sure, they don’t have a pick until the third round, but they’re far from done dealing.
Malcolm Butler and Jimmy Garoppolo could both be on the move with first-round picks likely coming back if they are moved. Bill Belichick is once again proving why he’s not just the best coach in the NFL but one of the top GMs, too.
The Patriots are locked and loaded, meanwhile other teams in the AFC such as the Steelers, Broncos and Raiders have remained relatively quiet.
Cleveland started off free agency with a bang, signing Kenny Britt, Kevin Zeitler and J.C. Tretter to improve its terrible offensive line. Then, the Browns paid the Texans for a second-round pick and Brock Osweiler, further improving their draft capital. They likely won’t keep Osweiler, but that second-round pick might be enough to sweeten a potential deal for New England's Jimmy Garoppolo.
Even if the Browns stand pat and take Myles Garrett at No. 1 and a playmaker at No. 12, their offseason will be a success. Signing Zeitler and Tretter was key for their offensive line, allowing them to focus on other positions in the draft.
Loser: Kirk Cousins
Cousins has gone from apparent franchise quarterback to potentially not being re-signed to franchise tagged to potential trade chip. And none of it is good for him.
Cousins is deserving of a long-term deal after playing well the past two seasons, but the Redskins have been reluctant to give him that. The two sides haven’t come close to an agreement and it doesn’t look like they ever will, with Cousins going as far as to ask owner Dan Snyder about his trade value.
Cousins now sits in limbo, having to either play under the franchise tag for a second straight season or try to force his way out of Washington by way of a trade. Either way, his future is very much in question.
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Winner: Mike Glennon
Glennon wanted a chance to be a starter somewhere. He also wanted to be paid accordingly. He got both wishes. The Bears have already endorsed him as the starter (for now), giving him every opportunity to be “the guy” in Chicago.
Like Brock Osweiler last offseason, Glennon is a bit unproven. He had little success in Tampa Bay and was even benched for Josh McCown at one point. The Bears took a small risk on Glennon with their team-friendly contract, but if he plays well, he’ll cash in.
The Cardinals saw themselves go from Super Bowl contenders to a team that couldn’t make it to .500 last year. They’ve followed up their disastrous season with an offseason that’s been equally bad.
Calais Campbell, Tony Jefferson, Marcus Cooper and D.J. Swearinger all left in free agency, giving the Cardinals four gaping holes to fill. Arizona has been quiet on the signing front, too, with Jarvis Jones and Antoine Bethea as the only notable additions.
If the Cardinals want to get back to their ways of being a powerhouse in the NFC West, they’ll need to have a great draft and add a potential No. 2 cornerback in the coming weeks.
USA TODAY SportsMark J. Rebilas
Winner: Offensive linemen
Protecting the quarterback is paramount in the NFL. This isn’t opinion. It’s fact. Just look at how teams prioritized offensive linemen in free agency. Andrew Whitworth got $36 million at age 35, Kevin Zeitler got $60 million from the Browns, and even Matt Kalil nabbed $55 million from the Panthers.
Even if you’re a mid-tier offensive lineman, you’re going to get paid. That became evident this past week with even decent tackles and guards receiving massive contracts.
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Loser: Running backs
Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles continue to sit on the open market, generating very little interest. The same goes for Darren McFadden, Rashad Jennings, and LeGarrette Blount – all of whom remain available.
This is a terrible year to be a free-agent running back, considering how strong the draft class is. Not to mention, each of the backs comes with a downside, whether it’s past injuries or a one-dimensional style of running.
In past years, Chris Ivory, DeMarco Murray, Lamar Miller and Doug Martin all cashed in. That’s not going to happen in this year’s class.
Winner: Pass rushers
Before free agency officially began, the top pass rushers were already off the board. Chandler Jones, Jason Pierre-Paul and Melvin Ingram were all franchise tagged by their respective teams with Jones landing a massive deal from the Cardinals.
Teams made it clear in the past few weeks just how important pass rushers are in the NFL. The best ones hardly ever hit the open market, and when they do, they get paid. Just look at the way the Giants threw money at Olivier Vernon last offseason, which worked out in their favor.
If you can hit on defensive ends and outside linebackers in the draft, great. If not, good luck finding one in the bargain bin in free agency. They won’t be cheap.
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Do you think Jameis Winston is happy? He finally has a deep threat in DeSean Jackson, who led the league in yards per reception last season (17.9). The Buccaneers were toward the bottom of the league in big plays last season, an area where Jackson thrives.
The Bucs also added Chris Baker, a force on the interior of the defensive line. He and Gerald McCoy will be a strong duo inside, opening up opportunities for their edge rushers. Plus, safety J.J. Wilcox gives Tampa Bay depth in the secondary, bringing a physical presence to the defense.
The Redskins are a mess. Scot McCloughan was fired as GM, Kirk Cousins wants out and they lost their top two receivers in free agency. But hey, at least they got Terrelle Pryor!
Unfortunately, signing Pryor won’t fix their litany of issues, which include holes left by DeSean Jackson and Chris Baker, to name just two. There’s simply too much dysfunction in Washington right now to call them winners, and it doesn’t seem to be getting better any time soon.
Loser: Veteran QBs
Tony Romo figured to be released by now, giving him the best opportunity to sign with a team of his choosing. He remains in Dallas.
Jay Cutler was released by the Bears, but interest has been minimal. The Jets could be a fit, but outside of them, who really needs a declining, aging mistake-prone quarterback?
Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III are free agents, but is there really a fit for either of them as a starter? Not before the draft, probably.
The veterans on the market are simply too flawed to warrant throwing money at, and it’s unlikely any teams will until later in the offseason.
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Stop me if you’ve heard this before: The Jaguars spent big in free agency. Whether their flurry of moves will pay off remains to be seen, but it’s clear they’re going all in for 2017. A.J. Bouye, Calais Campbell and Barry Church will all be Day 1 starters next season, further improving a defense that was already strong in 2016.
With the draft still to come and the Jaguars holding a premium pick at No. 3, they have even more room to improve. Next season will likely come down to quarterback play, as it often does for the Jaguars.
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Loser: Andy Dalton
Why do the Bengals hate Dalton?
They don’t actually, but their moves in free agency would suggest otherwise. After losing Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones last offseason, the Bengals continued to fall apart offensively.
Kevin Zeitler and Andrew Whitworth both walked in free agency, leaving the Bengals without a right guard or left tackle. Cincinnati’s offensive line was already far worse in 2016 than it was two years ago, and it’s only going to get worse.
Good luck, Andy.
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The Jets are a mess, and they haven’t gotten any better in free agency. In fact, they’ve gotten substantially worse. Brandon Marshall, Darrelle Revis, Nick Mangold, Breno Giacomini and Ryan Clady all became free agents after releases and declined options, freeing up some much-needed cap space.
What have they done with all that new money? Not land Dont'a Hightower, that’s for sure. They did bring in Kelvin Beachum, who can be a decent piece on the offensive line, but he hardly makes them noticeably better.
The Jets appear content on being terrible in 2017, leading them to land a top draft pick next year. After all, their quarterback situation isn’t going to do them any favors.