A few weeks have passed since the annual NFL free agency period commenced and the majority of the heavy hitters now all have new contracts. Retirements, delistings, trades and serious pay day’s have taken over the sports world, giving us something to focus our attention on and overanalyse. Not all the dealings that have taken place in the last fortnight have ‘mattered’ with the landscape of the NFL changing rapidly thanks to these 13 moves in particular.
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TB12 lands in TB
LET’S start with the obvious one. After 20 years of excellence with the New England Patriots, the greatest quarterback to lace em up is opting for a fresh start – signing a gargantuan two-year, $50M deal with the Buccaneers. Tom Brady arrives in Tampa with plenty of expectations after six Super Bowl wins and a remarkable 30-11 record in the postseason. Through their 44 seasons as an NFL franchise, the Bucs have managed to compile a 6-9 playoff win-loss ledger and they are crying out for someone to help them break a 12-year postseason drought. There is plenty of offensive talent on the roster for Brady to utilise and time will tell whether the quarterbacking Jesus can steer Bruce Arians’ entourage to the promised land.
DeForest Buckner becomes a Colt
COLTS GM Chris Ballard has been vocal in his wishes to build a dominant defensive line and sacrificing a first-round pick helped him land another key contributor. After spending four seasons as a San Fransisco 49er, DeForest Buckner departs with the 13th overall pick going back to the Niners, in a deal most people around the league view as a win-win. Upon arriving, Buckner signed a four-year, $84M extension that will now make him the second-highest-paid defensive tackle in the league behind Aaron Donald and his added defensive pressure should help the Colts get after opposing quarterbacks with more regularity. San Fran, on the other hand, are now the proud owners of multiple first-round selections but don’t be surprised if one of their first’s are used to gain more draft capital in later rounds.
Image from mercurynews.com
Yannick Ngakoue tagged then traded?
FRANCHISE tagging a player doesn’t mean that they will be around for the upcoming season, with Yannick Ngakoue and the Jacksonville Jaguars poised for a breakup. Originally drafted by the Jags in 2016, Ngakoue has developed into an elite NFL defender already sitting second in franchise history for sacks (37.5) and chalking up the 4th most forced fumbles (14) since entering the league. However, a troubled relationship with now-former VP of football operations Tom Coughlin means the waters have been muddied between the two parties and Ngakoue apparently he has no intention of signing a long-term deal. There’s a small chance Ngakoue plays out the year under the tag, but flipping their DE for draft assets could be on the cards as the Draft draws nearer.
Miami opens their chequebook
I cheated here by lumping the Miami Dolphins’ signings as one move following their serious splurge. With Brady no longer residing in the division, the Fins hit fast-forward on their rebuild, forking out $235.5M ($142M+ guaranteed) on nine new players with the likes of Byron Jones, Kyle Van Noy and Shaq Lawson all set to radically change Miami’s defense. It was a lot of money for a team with so many gaping holes to give up, with Jones now the highest-paid corner in the NFL and the Dolphins quickly evaporating all the cap space they had at their disposal. In 2019, Brian Flores’ defense finished in the bottom-10 for almost every major stat and a retooled roster should help them take another stride forward – perhaps even challenging for their first AFC East title in 12 years.
Amari Cooper gets paid by the Cowboys
AMARI Cooper was always going to get his money this offseason, the question on everyone’s mind was whether that contract was going to come from Dallas or not. After tagging Dak Prescott, the Cowboys quickly secured the best weapon in their passing game by throwing a five-year, $100M extension ($60M guaranteed) Cooper’s way. Dallas’ stud QB-WR combo has connected on 132 passes for 1,914 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns in their 25 games together, however, the former Oakland wideout saw his production tail off later in the 2019 season while dealing with a number of niggling injury woes. He and Prescott are critical to the Cowboys’ success and once a long-term deal is agreed upon for their QB you can expect to see the pair striving to elevate their production in Mike McCarthy’s offense.
Philip Rivers continues in Indianapolis
RETIREMENT was on the cards, but Philip Rivers will go around at least one more year after signing with the Indianapolis Colts for 2020. A $25M salary helped coerce Rivers to stay in the NFL after 16 years as a Charger, with the 8x Pro Bowler presented with perhaps his final chance to capture an elusive Super Bowl ring. Both he and the Colts will have their eyes on the prize in the upcoming season, with their roster certainly capable of stringing enough W’s together to go on a deep run this year. A lot of their successes will hinge on how the arm of their now 38-year old starting QB holds up, with Rivers clearly not the long-term answer for Indianapolis. Playing behind arguably the best offensive line in the league will help keep him upright next season, but if Rivers can’t get the ball into the hands of his playmakers we might be looking at a subpar end to his NFL career.
Carolina releases Cam Newton
AFTER nine seasons, 68 wins, an MVP award in 2015 and an ensuing trip to Super Bowl 50, Cam Newton is no longer a Carolina Panther. Since being drafted first overall in 2011, Newton has been the face of the Panthers franchise – arguably cementing himself as the greatest player in franchise history. Now though, he’s looking for a new job with a surplus of quarterbacks still classified as free agents and not enough starting jobs in the league for everyone. When healthy, Newton is a bonafide NFL starter, however, staying on the field has been the hardest part in recent times with potential suitors for Newton concerned by his previous injury issues. “Super Cam” may have to accept the reality that a starting job isn’t out there for him, but bidding his time as QB2 on the Steelers’/Bills’/Chargers’ depth chart could still see him have some meaningful moments to close his career.
IT was the offseason move that left most us still scratching their heads. The Houston Texans (aka acting GM Bill O’Brien) instantly got crucified for the trade, sending maybe the best wide receiver in the league DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals for oft-injured running back David Johnson. There were a few draft picks that changed hands as well, but on paper, those two players are clearly on different career trajectories. Johnson had a stellar 2016 season with 2,000+ yards from scrimmage and 20 total touchdowns, but the now-former Cardinal struggled to produce and stay healthy in the three seasons that followed. Hopkins, is arguably the best pass catcher in the game, recording the third-most receiving yards since entering the league (8,602) behind Julio Jones and Antonio Brown while totalling just SIX drops in the last two years on 313 targets. O’Brien’s puzzling manoeuvre will be talked about for years to come and while Johnson could re-emerge as a check down king and a massive aid for Texans QB Deshaun Watson, I’d still pick DeAndre Hopkins for my team 12 times out of 10.
Atlanta lands Todd Gurley…
IT took less than 24 hours for someone to pounce on Todd Gurley after the Rams stunningly cut ties with their star running back earlier this offseason. Gurley coming home to Georgia and signing with the Falcons is cool from a nostalgic perspective, but Atlanta will be hoping a fresh start will see him repair his reputation as one of the most dynamic offensive weapons in the entire NFL. Throughout the last three years as a Ram, Gurley amassed nearly 5,000 yards from scrimmage and 54 touchdowns, but 2019 was easily his worst season as a pro leading to his departure from Los Angeles. Rumours surfaced around arthritic issues in his left knee which saw his stock take a tumble, but I expect Gurley to explode for the Falcons and potentially earn another payday in the 2021 offseason.
…and Dante Fowler Jr too
FIRST-rounders aplenty make up their offense now, but for Atlanta to re-establish themselves as a championship calibre organisation their defense is the area they really need improvement in. The Falcons’ 28 sacks a year ago tied for the second-fewest in the entire NFL, which led to them sign former No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler Jr to a three-year/$48mil contract. He, like Todd Gurley, played for the Rams a year ago where he recorded personal best sack (11.5) and QB hit (16) numbers and that extra grunt on the interior next to Grady Jarrett could help Atlanta’s D-line be a much-improved unit in 2020. Up front wasn’t their only concern on defense, but with the franchise approaching what many view as a make or break year, bringing Fowler in is a worthwhile risk.
Travis Frederick announces his shock retirement
FREDERICK’S sudden retirement was one of the most perplexing moves to take place in free agency. His NFL journey with the Cowboys only lasted seven years, however, in that short time, Frederick was elected to five Pro Bowl teams and was an All-Pro in 2014, 2015 and 2016 with his sudden departure a huge blow for Dallas. Staying healthy ultimately derailed the talented O-lineman’s career with Guillain–Barré syndrome forcing him to miss all of 2018 and despite coming back as an anchor for the Cowboys on offense last year, Frederick revealed it was “difficult” for him and he “could no longer perform at my highest level”. The center position is crucial to a team’s production and losing such an integral part of their offense will force Dallas to find a solution on the fly if they want to contend this season.
Image from thegamehaus.com
The Bengals tag A.J. Green
SINCE entering the league A.J. Green has been one of the best receivers in the NFL – leading to the Bengals franchise tagging their best pass-catching option this offseason. We all expect Joe Burrow to be under center for Cincinnati next year, so keeping Green around to give the LSU gun someone to target is a wise move. However, Green will be 32-years old by the start of the next season and he has seen his production tail off slightly in recent years with torn ligaments in his ankle sidelining him for the entire 2019 campaign. Having missed 23 of the last 24 games the Bengals will need to do more than simply tagging Green to build a competent receiving core for their new franchise guy and NFL fans will be hoping we can see the stud WR back on the field hauling in dimes from Burrow with regularity.
Does Jack Conklin solve Cleveland’s O-line problems?
LANDING the top right tackle on the market in Jack Conklin is huge for the Browns and their mercurial quarterback Baker Mayfield. Since entering the NFL in 2018, Mayfield has been sacked 65 times with 40 of them coming last season alone, highlighting the importance of Conklin’s presence on Cleveland’s O-line in the forthcoming seasons. Conklin leaves Tennessee after establishing himself as an elite lineman – posting an individual pass-block win rate of 92.3% last year, good for 8th highest in the NFL. His arrival helps solve some of their problems, but the Browns shouldn’t stop looking for additional offensive line help with a slue of options expected to be on the board when they pick 10th overall in the first round of the upcoming draft.
Banner from twitter.com