To say that there’s been a lot of key free agency moves this NFL offseason is an understatement. It’s been more of a frenzy!
Six weeks ago, Washington struck first when they traded for quarterback Alex Smith and signed him to a $94 million dollar extension. This effectively ended the Kirk Cousins era and started a ripple effect around the league.
The 49ers stepped up next when they locked-in their primary asset in Jimmy Garoppolo for five years at a price tag north of $137 million. It was certainly a check worth writing being that subsequent moves would land the team a defensive voice in Richard Sherman, a pass catching back in Jerick McKinnon, and an extended deal with wide receiver Marquise Goodwin.
Cleveland was perhaps the team that no one saw coming. GM John Dorsey pulled off an impressive heist when he traded away two draft picks for Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry, and then flipped another player to land former Bills quarterback, Tyrod Taylor. These moves give the Browns a deadly offensive core when you factor in wide receivers Josh Gordon, Corey Coleman, and tight end David Njoku. Dorsey was also able to shore up the Cleveland backfield by adding former 49ers running back, Carlos Hyde.
While the Tennessee Titans dumped running back DeMarco Murray for the speedier Dion Lewis, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers went to work by locking up wide receiver Mike Evans (5-years, $82.5 million), tight end Cameron Brate, and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. It seems that the Buccaneers finally realized they were lacking quarterback insurance for Jameis Winston.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Broncos traded cornerback Aqib Talib to the Rams for a fifth round pick. The Bengals cut ties with veteran cornerback Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones, as did the 49ers with pass rusher Elvis Dumervil. The Raiders released underperforming cornerback Sean Smith and the once heralded linebacker Aldon Smith, both of whom face much bigger issues off the field. Other big name releases include Miami defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, Arizona safety Tyrann Mathieu, and Ravens defensive back Ladarius Webb. There’s no doubt that most of these guys will be scooped up by other teams fairly quick.
The Eagles made two strong defensive moves in resigning linebacker Nigel Bradham, and bringing on former Detroit All-Pro, Haloti Ngata.
Perhaps one of the bigger shockers around the league was hearing that the Green Bay Packers released wide receiver Jordy Nelson. The news was drowned out by the Packers simultaneous move of signing former New Orleans and Seattle tight end, Jimmy Graham. It’s hard to say where Nelson will end up, but he’s got plenty of options.
Former Seattle wide receiver Paul Richardson will join Alex Smith in Washington, while wide receiver Allen Robinson will move on from the Jaguars to the Bears. Taking Robinson’s place will be former Colts wideout Donte Moncrief, who will pair up with the recently resigned Marqise Lee (4-years, $38 million). Taylor Gabriel will join forces with Allen Robinson in Chicago, which will hopefully give the wide receiving corps some much needed pop for second year quarterback, Mitchell Trubisky.
Once quarterback Case Keenum was signed by the Broncos, it became a no-brainer that Kirk Cousins would sign with the Minnesota Vikings, a deal worth $84 million guaranteed. This is a great fit for Cousins, as we wrote about last month before the deal came to fruition.
While there are many free agent moves still in flux, the one that particularly catches our eye is the resigning of Saints quarterback, Drew Brees. The team re-upped Brees for two years and $50 million. In watching the Saints last year, this team appeared prime for a Super Bowl run, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them make another one this year. That is, now that Brees remains in the captain’s seat.
Drew Brees is perhaps the best ‘non-move’ that no one’s talking about. He’s the 39-year old equivalent of his younger protege, Russell Wilson. He’s still equipped with enough arm strength, and offensive weaponry to out-sling the rest of league. And, while his numbers were down last season, his 4,334 passing yards and 23 touchdowns are nothing to scoff at. With the rock-solid trio of Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, and Michael Thomas, the Saints offense is only a few sprinkles away from being a full blown defensive nightmare. If the Saints can make good on their quarterback investment by also adding a pass catching tight end, then it’s another feather in the cap for this year’s team.
Assuming that Drew Brees operates at the level he did last year — this time with running back Alvin Kamara in the starting lineup from the get-go — it should insulate the quarterback from taking numerous hits, while also opening up opportunities for his receivers downfield. Unfortunately, it took the Saints almost six weeks to figure out Brees’ supporting cast last season before the blueprint finally came together.
Having had a chance to pare down the roster last season to see what works, the Saints biggest free agency move was actually its strategy to do absolutely nothing, and simply re-sign Drew Brees. This in itself was a huge, yet subtle, game changer that will undoubtedly lend continuity and stability to the Saints organization. As unexciting as it may have been, it’s easily the best ‘non-move’ that any one team’s made in free agency thus far.