NFL: Winners and Losers of Free Agency

With the NFL’s Free Agency period commencing this week, teams started making moves. Some teams filled glaring holes on their rosters, while others struggled to have success. A handful of teams came out of the beginning of FA glistening, while others made moves that reflect poorly on them.

Winners

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys had several key players becoming Free Agents in 2020 that would have decimated their starting roster. However, they were able to re-sign the core group of those, including Wide Receiver Amari Cooper, Offensive Lineman Joe Looney, and Linebacker Sean Lee. Moreover, they gave themselves time to work out an extension with Quarterback Dak Prescott after assigning him the franchise tag.

Additionally, the Cowboys solidified some other needs on their roster with some signings. The middle of the Defensive Line was strengthened with veteran Gerald McCoy, solidifying Dallas’ poor run defense from 2019. Additionally, they added much-needed talent to their secondary with safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, although he is not a long-term solution. Regardless, both of these players are instant upgrades over what the Cowboys had on offer.

Indianapolis Colts

Although they still have a few needs on their roster, the Colts avoided losing one of the strengths of their team. OL Anthony Castonzo and Le’Raven Clark both re-signed with the Colts, keeping their OL stable. Indianapolis also acquired DL DeForest Buckner from the San Francisco 49ers for a first-round draft pick. Buckner is one of the most talented and versatile players at his position and fills a bigger need than the Colts could have addressed at 13th overall.

The bigger move for Indianapolis was signing QB Philip Rivers. It became apparent that Jacoby Brissett was not the answer long-term last season, and Indianapolis found someone that could win them games for a year or two. While he may have regressed in 2019, if they can surround him with weapons, Rivers will be playing behind the best OL he’s had in a decade.

Los Angeles Chargers

While they may have lost their starting QB and Running Back from 2019 (Philip Rivers and Melvin Gordon), the Chargers won’t see those as negatives. Gordon’s backup, RB Austin Ekeler, more than capably filled in for long stretches over the last few years and re-signed with the team. Likewise, Tight End Hunter Henry was also retained, ensuring that the team won’t lose continuity. Los Angeles may also consider the loss of Rivers as an upside, as the team had become stagnant on offense. Defensive Tackle Linval Joseph was also re-signed to prevent a backward step on defense.

Moreover, the Chargers finally made significant additions to their OL. After having one of the worst and injury-riddled OLs in recent years, the Chargers acquired Offensive Tackle Bryan Bulaga and Offensive Guard Trai Turner, both providing better protection for the new starting QB. Cornerback Chris Harris was also added as an FA, allowing the team to develop one of the best secondaries in the league.

New Orleans Saints

In a win-now phase, the Saints kept key pieces of their offense. QBs Drew Brees and Taysom Hill were both brought back, preventing a need for major changes. OG Andrus Peat was also retained, ensuring the OL stays as good as it has for several years.

The Saints filled out some of their biggest needs with FA signings. After losing safety Vonn Bell, they were able to replace him easily with Malcolm Jenkins, who has a similar skill set. Furthermore, WR Emmanuel Sanders is a perfect complement to Michael Thomas and is the missing playmaker the team needed in the last few years.

Coin Flip

Denver Broncos

With an active presence in FA, the Broncos’ moves could go either way. Their losses were replaced relatively well, such as trading for CB AJ Bouye to replace Harris. Defensive End Jurrell Casey should step in immediately for Derek Wolfe if he isn’t returned. On top of these signings, Denver also signed OG Graham Glasgow, who should provide quality stability the team has lacked for a while. RB Melvin Gordon was signed too, and with fellow RB Phillip Lindsay, should take the pressure off QB Drew Lock.

Detroit Lions

Similarly, Detroit’s FA moves stink of desperation, and are as likely to succeed as they are to fail. LB Jamie Collins, CB Duron Harmon, and DL Danny Shelton are all former Patriots reuniting with Matt Patricia as he tries to make the defense work. CB Darius Slay was traded away, although the secondary was treated with CB Desmond Trufant and Safety Jayron Kearse. OT Halapoulivaati Vatai was their other notable signing. These additions each have talent, but aside from Collins, none were among the best at their position last season. They all carry significant risk for a franchise close to wiping the slate clean.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs franchise-tagged LB Shaquil Barrett after an impressive 2019, and should have a stable pass rush situation as they also retained DE Jason Pierre-Paul. However, the big question around the team is at QB. Tom Brady will replace James Winston, and has quality weapons around him.

However, if he can’t develop chemistry with them, or his arm strength has diminished, he won’t be able to make the most of them. Likewise, he doesn’t seem an instant fit for Bruce Arians’ scheme, who likes to take shots downfield. This partnership could be successful, but it’s a big risk for the Bucs who have an otherwise talented roster.

Losers

Chicago Bears

Although they made some moves, most are questionable and unimpressive. They retained LB Danny Trevathan and Safety Deon Bush, but those were their best transactions. DE Robert Quinn was signed to a 5-year deal, despite having one season with 10+ sacks since 2014. CB Artie Burns was also added but has been mediocre throughout his career.

The Bears also added other average-at-best acquisitions. TE Jimmy Graham was signed, and QB Nick Foles was traded for a 2nd round pick. While Foles is potentially an upgrade over incumbent starter Mitchell Trubisky, there were better options the Bears could have acquired. Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota and Cam Newton have all been available over the past week, and possess similar skills to Trubisky, meaning the offense wouldn’t need to be re-designed. Foles is a slight upgrade over Trubisky but also appears to be a short-term starter.

Houston Texans

Even if they had made impressive moves and solidified their OL, the Texans would still be a loser of FA because of one terrible trade. Their best player on the roster, WR DeAndre Hopkins, was traded away for RB David Johnson and a 2nd round pick. Losing Hopkins instantly makes the Texans worse, while Johnson does not provide a major improvement at the RB position. Unless Johnson can return to his 2016 form, Houston projects to be moving away from the playoffs.

While their other moves are logical, they are predominantly uninspired. WR Randall Cobb was added, but is a WR3 at best, or has value only from the slot. Cornerbacks Vernon Hargreaves and Bradley Roby, and TE Darren Fells were all returned, but again, none (aside from Roby) are game-changing players.

Las Vegas Raiders

Despite being one of the more active teams in FA, the Raiders essentially signed backups and depth players. LBs Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski, and WR Nelson Agholor are capable of stepping in immediately but aren’t dynamic pieces who significantly improve the team. Safety Jeff Heath also figures to be a starter but will need quality talent around him still.

Las Vegas also brought in TE Jason Witten, who struggled to return after retiring in 2018. CB Eli Apple has also struggled through his first four years in the league, but fills a desperate need for the team, if only for depth and experience. QB Marcus Mariota is their FA pick with the most upside but doesn’t figure to get time as a starter unless Derek Carr struggles greatly. However, Mariota does give the Raiders one of the best backup QBs in the league.

Individual Players

WR Robby Anderson thought he would dominate FA, but after seeing Sanders and Agholor get picked up, alongside a strong WR draft class, he is still to sign with a team. DL Everson Griffen and Ndamukong Suh are highly productive veterans, but also have not been signed, and may have to settle for less than what they thought they were worth. CB Bashaud Breeland had a terrific postseason culminating in a Super Bowl win, but also hasn’t landed anywhere, despite most teams needing upgrades at CB.

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