NFL Free Agency began Monday and I couldn’t have been happier.
Every year the combine, free agency, and the draft keep me sane during the NFL’s six-month hiatus. During this time of the year, you get to see why some teams are contenders and others are stuck in a vicious cycle of mediocrity. Some teams spend big, some teams don’t spend at all, but spending money and spending money wisely are two separate things. Let’s take a look at this year’s winners and losers.
Winners: Cleveland Browns
For the second year in a row, the Cleveland Browns are being viewed as one of the big winners of free agency. Last year, they were able to trade for superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., and were viewed as Super Bowl contenders. Unfortunately, they weren’t even able to reach .500 as they finished 6-10. This was largely due to rookie head coach Freddie Kitchens being in way over his head and second year QB Baker Mayfield regressing, which is most likely due to an incompetent head coach.
The Browns cleaned house at the end of the season firing Kitchens and GM John Dorsey. With those two out the door, Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski was brought in to take the Browns to the next level. He and new GM Andrew Berry seem dedicated to putting Baker Mayfield in the position to help the Browns win.
The first major signing was inking tight end Austin Hooper to a four-year, $42 million contract. Cleveland already has a budding star at tight end in David Njoku, who was out most of last year with a wrist injury. However, Njoku is more of a receiving tight end, while Hooper is your more traditional tight end who does it all. With Stefanski’s offense being very run- heavy and play-action based, we will likely see a lot of two TE sets. This duo has the ability to be very dangerous.
The Browns also went out and got offensive tackle Jack Conklin and journeyman quarterback Case Keenum. Conklin is a solid right tackle who was first team All-Pro in 2016 and will help anchor an offensive line who had a hard time keeping Mayfield clean last year. Keenum had his best statistical season under Stefanski in 2017, leading the Vikings to the playoffs with a 13-3 record. Keenum knows Stefanski’s system inside and out and was obviously brought in to mentor Baker Mayfield.
Losers: Miami Dolphins
Do you remember what I said in the first paragraph? “…spending money and spending money wisely are two separate things.” The Dolphins did not spend their money wisely. Now to be fair, they did have a ton of cap room, around $94 million, so they could afford to overpay some players. As my dad always said, just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
Miami started the period by making Byron Jones the highest paid cornerback in the league, inking him to a five-year, $82 million deal. The Dolphins then gave former Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy a four-year, $51 million deal. Former Pro Bowler Jordan Howard was signed to a two year deal. The last two major deals were signing defensive ends Emmanuel Ogbah and Shaq Lawson to multi-year deals.
Are all of these signings bad? No. Did the Dolphins severely overpay for some average players? Yes. Byron Jones is an excellent corner, but just last year the Dolphins broke the bank to pay Xavien Howard. They are now paying two corners $32 million a year. As a Patriots fan, I love Kyle Van Noy, but that contract is ridiculous. He’s a great leader and will bring energy to your locker room, but I think he’s a product of New England’s system. Jordan Howard is a one hit wonder, and Ogbah and Lawson have both had disappointing careers considering where they were drafted at. I think most of the Dolphins’ signings will be impactful, but most of them will not live up to their contract.
Winners: Tom Brady & Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This one really hurts to write. I’m the self-proclaimed biggest Tom Brady fan on Earth. Since I began watching football, he has been my favorite player, and the reason I was a New England Patriots fan. Watching him leave New England this past week is something I figured was coming, but at the same time something I didn’t ever think would happen. That being said I love the move, I think both parties will come out on top.
For the Buccaneers, you get the GOAT on your team. Tampa Bay has a very solid roster on both sides of the ball, they just have never been able to get the quarterback right. You have the best wide receiving tandem in the league with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, two great tight ends in OJ Howard and Cameron Brate, and a very solid running back core with Ronald Jones III leading the way. You also have a defence that was ranked 5th in the league last year, and a solid coaching staff led by the offensive genius himself Bruce Arians. Tom Brady is not only going to help you sell tickets, he’s going to help your team take the next step.
For Tom Brady, he finally gets what he hasn’t had his entire career. A fiery, offensive-minded head coach, and weapons. The Buccaneers have already said Brady will be given some roster control to help the already talented roster get even better.
Losers: DeShaun Watson & Bill O’Brien
As I stated in my “DeAndre Hopkins Trade Reaction” article, I don’t think this trade was as lopsided as the media is making it seem, and down the road the trade could end up being beneficial to the Texans. However, as of right now, this does not look good for the Texans organization at all.
Head Coach and GM Bill O’Brien has been on thin ice for a few years now, and if David Johnson and that second-round pick don’t pan out, he may just fall through that ice. As a head coach he has a decent record of 52-44 , however his postseason record is only 2-4 in his 6 years in Houston. O’Brien doesn’t have a large body of work as a GM, but he did trade away star edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney for only a third round pick. O’Brien is not irreplaceable, so if this trade completely backfires, the Texans would be stupid not to fire him.
I honestly feel sorry for DeShaun Watson. I am a Clemson football fan and DeShaun Watson is my favorite all-time Clemson football player. He is such a talented player, he really has everything you look for in a franchise quarterback: high football IQ, a good leader, a great arm, a great athlete, and he always rises to the occasion. Unfortunately, he’s playing on a very talent-deficient roster. Outside of Laremy Tunsil, his offensive line is atrocious, which leads to him taking a beating on a weekly basis. As far as weapons, all he really had was DeAndre Hopkins and the often injured Will Fuller V. Now the better of the two is gone. I really hope O’Brien can surround this man with the talent he deserves in order to succeed.
Featured photo courtesy of Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP Photo
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