The NFL’s new league year isn’t even a day old but you wouldn’t think so based on all the moves that have already transpired. Not only has free agency gotten off to a furious start, but last week’s LeSean McCoy trade ended up being the appetizer to Tuesday’s swapfest.
The end result? Numerous All-Pros have switched teams, the AFC East suddenly got a lot more interesting, defensive players are getting paid, running backs aren’t and everyone is trying to figure out what Chip Kelly is doing. Even though it’s still early in free agency and there are probably more trades to come, it’s never too early to identify some winners and losers in the aftermath of all of these transactions. One thing is pretty clear; the biggest winner thus far has been NFL fans.
Ndadmukong Suh & Darrelle Revis
Suh got $114 million, including $60 million guaranteed, from the Dolphins to make him the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history. Revis got his Super Bowl ring with New England, saw his $20 million team option declined by the Patriots and still winds up with a $70 million deal ($39 million guaranteed) to go back to the Jets. These are two of the best players in the league period, and they certainly cashed in on their status as such.
Other Defensive Players
Ndamukong Suh and Darrelle Revis aren’t the only defenders who capitalized on being a free agent this offseason either. While Revis left for the Jets, the Patriots did retain safety Devin McCourty, signing him to a five-year, $47.5 million contract ($28.5 million guaranteed). Cornerback Byron Maxwell is leaving Seattle after inking a six-year, $63 million deal from the extremely active Eagles.
Even All-Pro linebacker Justin Houston, who didn’t make it to free agency after Kansas City applied the franchise tag, is looking at a nice paycheck. Houston is set to make $13.2 million in 2015, assuming he and the Chiefs don’t come to agreement on a long-term deal before he has to sign his one-year tender. And that’s just the big names, as guys like Davon House, Buster Skrine, Pernell McPhee, Brooks Reed, Dan Skuta and Stephen Paea also fared pretty well contract-wise.
Julius Thomas & Owen Daniels
Thomas got the big bucks he was seeking from Jacksonville to the tune of $46 million over four years ($24 million guaranteed). However, Thomas’ departure from Denver turned out to be Daniels’ gain. He signed a three-year, $12 million deal to reunite with Gary Kubiak, his head coach in Houston and offensive coordinator last season in Baltimore, to join the Broncos and become Peyton Manning’s new favorite tight end.
The heart-breaking Super Bowl loss to the Patriots probably still stings, but you know Wilson was smiling from ear to ear when he found out Jimmy Graham was coming to Seattle. Not only does Wilson now have his new favorite target, he also has a big payday coming his way, as this is the last year of his rookie contract.
Yes, the Lions lost Ndamukong Suh, but Detroit rebounded nicely in acquiring Haloti Ngata from Baltimore. Ngata is just three years older than Suh and he is established in his own right as a two-time, first-team All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowler who won a Super Bowl with the Ravens.
But perhaps the most important thing is that Ngata comes a lot cheaper, as he’s set to make $8.5 million in the final year of his contract, while the Dolphins will pay Suh $60 million through 2017 alone. The Lions still have work to do along its defensive line with several other free agents, but Ngata is a good piece to start off the post-Suh era with.
The Jets’ rookie head coach has been on the job less than three months and he’s already seen his general manager trade for wide receiver Brandon Marshall and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to beef up the offense. On defense, Darrelle Revis returns with a new running mate, former Brown Buster Skrine, along with veteran linebacker and team leader David Harris. And the team still has enough cap space to make a few more moves. If the Jets figure out their quarterback situation, Bowles’ debut season could turn out to be quite successful.
Anyone Who Covers the Eagles
Whether or not Chip Kelly’s wheeling and dealing pays off on the field remains to be seen, but he’s certainly provided plenty of subject matter for anyone who covers his team. Between trading the franchise’s all-time leading rusher to swapping quarterbacks with the Rams, Kelly has guaranteed that the Eagles will remain in the spotlight from now up through the draft, and probably beyond.
Running Backs Not Named LeSean McCoy
McCoy got traded from Philadelphia to Buffalo, where he got a new contract. As for the rest of his peers? Well, not much has happened, as the market is still sorting itself out. But it’s clear how teams are approaching their backfields has changed when you look at the fact that DeMarco Murray, the reigning rushing champion, not only is still waiting to sign, he also hasn’t exactly been actively pursued by his old team. And it’s not like there’ s a lack of options on the market, as Reggie Bush, Steven Jackson, Pierre Thomas and DeAngelo Williams are available after being cut by their former teams, as is Justin Forsett, Ryan Mathews, C.J. Spiller and a host of others.
Those that have already found new teams, aren’t exactly breaking the bank. Mark Ingram re-signed with New Orleans for $16 million over four years, less than half of that guaranteed, while Frank Gore is headed to Indianapolis for a modest $12 million ($6.5 million guaranteed) over three years. No wonder Jackson has started his “Save the Running Back” movement (check out savetherunningback.org), as ball carriers are quickly being thrust down the NFL food chain.
Everyone knew New Orleans had cap issues, but few if any thought those woes would result in the trade of Jimmy Graham to Seattle. Not only did Brees lose his favorite target in Graham, the Saints also cut running back Pierre Thomas and linebacker Curtis Lofton because of their salary cap crunch. Running back Mark Ingram was re-signed, and New Orleans did bolster its offensive line by acquiring center Max Unger from the Seahawks along with their first-round draft pick. But Unger can’t catch passes and the Saints still have cap issues. These were probably not the changes Brees was expecting following a disappointing 7-9 showing last season.
New England Patriots
The Patriots have their ring, but the champs are finding out just how heavy is the head that wears the crown. Before free agency even started, the team cut ties with Vince Wilfork, the anchor of their defensive line, and declined options on both starting cornerbacks (Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner).
New England used its franchise tag on kicker Stephen Gostkowski and retained safety Devin McCourty, but Revis bolted for the big money the Jets offered and Browner seems likely to sign with a new team as well. To make matters worse, the division seems to be getting tougher with Miami adding Ndamukong Suh, Rex Ryan transforming the Bills by trading for LeSean McCoy and the Jets adding Revis and acquiring wide receiver Brandon Marshall from the Bears. The Patriots are the class of the AFC East until someone else beats them, but their streak of six straight division titles could be in jeopardy this season.
San Francisco 49ers
It has been an offseason to forget for the 49ers. First they lose Jim Harbaugh to Michigan because of an apparent internal power struggle. The end result is defensive line coach Jim Tomsula gets promoted to the top job while pretty much the rest of Harbaugh’s staff is sent packing.
Personnel-wise, not only has San Francisco already watched running back Gore and offensive lineman Mike Iupati sign elsewhere, All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis announced his retirement. Yes, the 49ers signed wide receiver Torrey Smith to bolster the offense, but this team still has a dozen pending free agents meaning there are plenty of holes to fill. And there also are the reports that fans are already looking to bail on their season ticket commitments just one season into the tenure of Levi’s Stadium. With every other team in the NFC West making moves to get better, 2015 could turn out to be a rough season for Tomsula and the 49ers.
Oakland Raiders & Cleveland Browns
Entering free agency, the only team with more cap space at its disposal than Oakland and Cleveland was Jacksonville. While the Jaguars made a splash by singing tight end Julius Thomas (and is DeMarco Murray next?), the Raiders and Browns have not been as successful in their efforts. The Raiders have been rebuffed by several of their big targets and while they have been busy, their additions to this point (Malcolm Smith, Rodney Hudson, Roy Helu, Curtis Lofton, Dan Williams) don’t exactly grab your attention.
The Browns have even less to show for their efforts, adding only quarterback Josh McCown and wide receiver Brian Hartline, who were each cut by their respective teams. It’s still early, but it’s safe to stay that each of these teams, and especially their fan bases, were hoping for more.
It’s Championship Week on the college hardwood with Selection Sunday for the NCAA Tournament just days away. What’s that, you weren’t aware because the NFL has been dominating the news cycles, Twitter and basically any other medium you can think of? Don’t worry, March Madness will still get its due, but not until the NFL cedes the spotlight.